Pacific Islands

Solomon Islands waits for election results in vote watched by China, US

April 18, 2024 8:20 am

[Source: Reuters]

Vote counting was set to begin in the Solomon Islands parliamentary election, the first since Prime Minister Manasseh Sogavare struck a security pact with China in 2022 and drew the Pacific Islands nation closer to Beijing.

In a late night press conference on Wednesday, elections chief Jasper Highwood Anisi said counting would start the following day, though it could be as late as Saturday in one outer island as ballot boxes are transported to provincial centres.

The election outcome will be closely watched by the United States, China and Australia for its potential impact on U.S.-China rivalry in the Pacific. Opposition parties say voters are focused on struggling health services, education and inadequate roads.

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Sogavare switched diplomatic ties from Taiwan to Beijing soon after becoming prime minister in 2019, and has pledged to strengthen relations with China, which is building ports, roads and a telecommunications network in the Solomon Islands.

His opponents have criticised the security pact with China, which has a police presence on the islands. Australia has traditionally been the biggest aid donor and security partner.

Prominent opposition figures include Matthew Wale, leader of the Solomon Islands Democratic Party, which has formed a coalition with the Democratic Alliance Party, pledging to boost education and fix hospitals that often run out of medicine.

Peter Kenilorea’s United Party aims to scrap the China security pact and create more infrastructure partnerships with Western countries to reduce Beijing’s influence.

“My hope for this election is to see real change,” said Kerrie Jonisi, voting in Honiara. Another voter, Dudley Akora, when asked about the security pact, which has not been published, said he did not think people knew what was in it. “I feel that it’s not that really ok,” he said.

Sogavare, running as leader of the Ownership, Unity and Responsibility Party, has pointed to hosting the Pacific Games, with stadiums donated by China, as a major achievement.

The Solomon Islands archipelago is home to just 700,000 people but occupies a strategic position 1,600 km (990 miles) northeast of Australia.

Sogavare has been prime minister four times, but never for consecutive terms.

Electoral Commission chairperson Madam Taeasi Sanga told a press conference after voting closed on Wednesday that the process had been peaceful and successful and that police would help secure the count.

“Whoever wins, respect the decision of voters,” she said.

The Islands have had a volatile history, with anti-government riots in 2021 and earlier inter-tribal violence.

“Whether it be in your favour or not, I emphasize that we keep the peace,” Royal Solomon Islands Police Force Commissioner Mostyn Mangau said.

Police and defence forces from Australia, New Zealand, Papua New Guinea and Fiji are assisting with election security and observer groups from Australia, New Zealand, the Pacific, Japan, Europe and the U.S. are monitoring the election.

The 50 members of the national parliament are elected for a four-year term. The prime minister is selected after polling day by a vote of newly elected lawmakers, a process that can take several weeks.