News World

Pro-China local leader ousted in Solomon Islands election

Pro-China local leader ousted in Solomon Islands election
Source: Unsplash

Solomon Islands Prime Minister Manasseh Sogavare was set to retain his seat in elections Saturday, local media reported, paving the way for the pro-China leader to try to form a government.

Sogavare is one of China’s most loyal friends in the South Pacific and has vowed to deepen ties with Beijing further if he returns to power.

He will soon travel to the capital Honiara, where his team will begin bartering with other MPs behind closed doors in the race to form a ruling coalition.

The election, billed as Solomon Islands’ most important in a generation, was seen in part as a referendum on China’s place in the “Hapi Isles”.

Sogavare fended off four challengers to retain a parliamentary seat he has held for more than 20 years, according to provisional results reported by the nation’s public broadcaster.

The 69-year-old has championed deeper links with Beijing since coming to power in 2019, when he severed longstanding diplomatic ties with Taiwan.

That decision partly fuelled a wave of anti-government riots that tore through the Chinatown district in Honiara.

Violence returned in 2021, when angry mobs tried to storm parliament, torched Chinatown and attempted to raze Sogavare’s home.

The centrepiece of Sogavare’s embrace was a 2022 security pact that has seen rotating teams of Chinese police deployed in the archipelago.

Regional governor Martin Fini, who oversaw the swift expansion of Chinese interests on the island of Malaita, earlier lost his re-election bid, according to the election commission.

The province of Malaita refused for years to accept aid or investment from China, bucking the trend as Beijing’s influence expanded across the rest of the sprawling archipelago to Australia’s northeast.

That changed when Fini was installed as the province’s premier in 2023, replacing the popular Daniel Suidani.

Fini recently signed a memorandum of understanding with China’s Jiangsu province but his failure to retain his seat puts that agreement in doubt.

Beijing’s embassy in Solomon Islands has praised Fini’s “firm support” of China, promising to pave his province with better roads and provide it with better internet.

Suidani was one of the rare provincial leaders who refused to cash China’s cheques, fearing Beijing’s goodwill would one day come with strings attached.

Indicating he would now seek to reclaim the premiership of Malaita, the most populous of Solomon Islands’ nine provinces, Suidani said the pursuit of closer ties with China had contributed to Fini’s downfall.

“The people here in Malaita don’t agree with the ruling government for the past 12 months,” he told AFP on Friday.

“All of these things contributed, including the signing of the provincial relationship with Jiangsu.”

Suidani’s provincial government was so concerned about China’s sway that it blocked telecoms giant Huawei from building desperately needed cell phone towers on the island.

“That is something that is very concerning — the influence of the (Chinese Communist Party) in this country,” Suidani told AFP this week.

Suidani was ousted as Malaita’s premier after losing a no-confidence vote in early 2023.

He has long suspected China of working behind the scenes to orchestrate his removal.

Solomon Islands is currently counting votes for both provincial and national elections.



About the author


Agence France-Presse (AFP) is a French international news agency headquartered in Paris, France. Founded in 1835 as Havas, it is the world's oldest news agency.

Daily Newsletter