Solomon Islands’ pro-China leader accused “agents of Western powers” and shadowy enemies of trying to “pull down” his government Wednesday, firing the starting gun on a contentious reelection bid.
Prime Minister Manasseh Sogavare has led the impoverished Pacific island for almost five years and — having delayed elections once — is seeking reelection on a platform of warm ties with Beijing.
Sogavare made a fiery initial pitch to voters on Wednesday, telling parliament his country was at the centre of a “geopolitical war” between fast-rising China and Western powers that he painted as arrogant has-beens.
Accusing the United States of having a “geopolitical superiority complex”, Sogavare claimed the end of American hegemony in the Pacific.
“We must wake up. Those days are over,” he said, while pointing to Chinese investment as a means of breaking his country’s dependence on foreign aid.
Solomon Islands’ economy has been hit hard by the Covid-19 pandemic, inflation and rising commodity prices.
It has an annual budget deficit of more than six percent of GDP, according to 2023 International Monetary Fund forecasts.
Since coming to office, Sogavare has cut ties with Taiwan and formally established relations with Beijing.
Last year, he struck a secretive security pact with China that the United States and Australia fear could give Beijing a military foothold in the South Pacific.
He has invited Chinese police to deploy to Solomon Islands and has been a repeat visitor to Beijing.
Critics have accused Sogavare and his party of corruption and using China’s political and economic support to secure his grip on power.
Sogavare dismissed those allegations Wednesday, saying he had been the target of “fabricated lies by agents of Western powers” who should “realize that their days of dominating and blinding the people of this country are over”.
“I have to go down in the history of this country as the most hated prime minister, the most sworn at, and most falsely accused,” he said.
“I am willing to go to prison if I am proven to commit any wrongs against the law.
“I’m surprised at how low people can go in their hate campaign against the partnership that Solomon Islands forged with the great country of the People’s Republic of China.”
Elections had been expected earlier this year but were delayed after Sogavare claimed it was not possible to hold a vote until after Solomon Islands hosted November-December’s Pacific Games.
Parliament is expected to be dissolved later this month, paving the way for elections in the first quarter of the year. No date has yet been