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Solomon Islands lawmakers to elect PM, with consequences for China

Manele Solomon Islands PM
Source: Pixabay

China’s growing sway in Solomon Islands will face a major test Thursday, when newly elected lawmakers gather to pick the Pacific nation’s next prime minister.

Incumbent Manasseh Sogavare withdrew from the contest after failing to secure an election majority, depriving Beijing of one of its staunchest supporters in the region.

Sogavare has backed foreign minister Jeremiah Manele in his place, a former bureaucrat who is likely to persevere with the last government’s pro-Beijing policies.

He will be challenged by Matthew Wale, the longtime opposition leader who is far more sceptical of China’s influence and reach.

The incoming parliament’s 50 MPs will vote for prime minister in a secret ballot on Thursday morning, after national elections ended in a stalemate last month.

While Manele claims to have sewn up a slim majority, Graeme Smith from Australian National University warned that loyalties could be fickle.

“You’re foolish to predict anything before Thursday afternoon,” he told AFP ahead of the vote.

Sogavare has overseen the rapid expansion of Chinese interests across the archipelago.

He signed a security pact with Beijing in 2022 that set alarm bells ringing in Western capitals.

Smith, who studies China’s influence in the Pacific, said Manele was likely to steer the country on a similar path — albeit with less of Sogavare’s bombast.

“He’s mild mannered, diplomatic. He won’t stir things up like Sogavare did.

“But I don’t think you’ll see many changes. I don’t think there will be any notable shift in policy. Although, of course, there will be a shift in tone.”

Sogavare was full throated in his support and admiration of China, once stating “I’m back home” after arriving in Beijing for bilateral meetings.

He also harboured a deep distrust of Australia and the United States, traditionally two of Solomon Islands’ closest security partners.

Development Policy Centre researcher Terence Wood told AFP it was unlikely frontrunner Manele would “spurn China’s advances”.

But Manele was also “less likely to embrace China with the same enthusiasm as Sogavare”, Wood added.

Rival Wale is a former accountant who has pledged to reform the nation’s creaking democratic institutions, which have long been clogged with corruption.

Wale has condemned the China security pact in the past, and has accused Sogavare of selling out Solomon Islands to keep Beijing happy.

“Wale is a very experienced politician,” Wood said.

“He’s done a lot of hard work building up his party. And he’s a bona fide reformer too.”

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AFP

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.







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