Sogavare won’t be Solomon Islands prime minister in new govt

The leader’s political alliance is backing Foreign Minister Jeremiah Manele as its PM candidate.
Charley Piringi and Stephen Wright
Honiara, Solomon Islands, and Brisbane, Australia
Sogavare won’t be Solomon Islands prime minister in new govt Solomon Islands Prime Minister Manasseh Sogavare (right), joined by Foreign Minister Jeremiah Manele (left), tells reporters in Honiara that he will not seek reelection to the top office, April 29, 2024.
Charley Piringi/BenarNews

Solomon Islands’ Prime Minister Manasseh Sogavare, who gained international prominence after agreeing to a secret security pact with China in 2022, said Monday he would not seek reelection when Parliament votes for a new leader later this week.

Sogavare, who acknowledged that divisiveness had punctuated his term as leader, saw his Ownership Unity and Responsibility Party fare poorly in national elections on April 17, reflecting frustration with stagnating living standards in the Pacific island country of 700,000 people. It will need the support of independents in the parliamentary vote on Thursday to achieve a majority and form a government. 

“I have been accused of many things but not a single one of these accusations have been proven in court,” Sogavare said during a news conference in Honiara on Monday. “My family has been subjected to unprecedented verbal abuse. I have been continuously vilified in the media.”

Sogavare told reporters that his foreign minister, Jeremiah Manele, would be his political alliance’s candidate for prime minister. He said the alliance had the votes to form a government. 

Sogavare’s coalition has 19 seats in Parliament as well as the support of another nine lawmakers, he said, while a rival coalition has 20 seats. To win, a candidate must have votes from 26 MPs – one more than half the legislature. 

The opposition coalition is led by Matthew Wale, and Peter Kenilorea Jr., son of the Solomon Islands’ first independence-era prime minister.

Political and party allegiances are more fluid in the Solomon Islands than longer-established democracies and the outcome of Parliament’s vote remains uncertain. 

Unity is ‘bedrock’

The election was the first since Sogavare’s Cabinet switched the Solomon Islands’ diplomatic recognition to China from Taiwan in 2019 and later signed a security pact with the superpower. Dissatisfaction with the diplomatic switch culminated in riots in the capital Honiara in late 2021. 

Manele is regarded by analysts as a moderate figure compared to the combative Sogavare, who appeared to relish criticizing the U.S. and its allies including Australia – a major donor to the Solomon Islands. 

The PM candidate told reporters that unity is the “bedrock” of society. 

“Stability provides a necessary framework for progress and transformation, attracting investment, fostering innovation, ensuring peaceful coexistence,” Manele said. 

Solomon Islands Foreign Minister Jeremiah Manele, a candidate for prime minister, speaks to reporters at the news conference in Honiara, April 29, 2024. [Charley Piringi/BenarNews]

In a letter sent Monday to all 50 MPs, the Solomon Islands’ head of state, Gov. Gen. David Vunagi, said nominations for prime minister would close at 4 p.m. Tuesday.  

He said Parliament would convene on Thursday morning to elect a prime minister.  

The vote is being watched by governments from China to Australia and the United States as they jostle for influence in the Pacific. 

For many observers, the election has been the most consequential for the Solomon Islands in a half century since independence and a referendum on Sogavare’s embrace of China. The superpower rewarded the nation with showcase sporting facilities for the Pacific Games and funding for members of parliament. 

However, going into the election, voters interviewed by BenarNews in Honiara and other areas of Guadalcanal said they were frustrated by the government’s ineffectiveness in providing basic services and were preoccupied by the daily struggle to earn enough to get by.

Crumbling roads and rundown health clinics were a common complaint as were high prices in mostly Chinese-owned shops in Honiara. In a village kilometers from the capital, one resident said he hoped the community could get bore water and proper toilets rather than having to dig pits in the ground.

Sogavare told the press conference that the destruction of his family home during the 2021 riots “did not waver my resolve to continue to serve our people.” 

Leadership, he said, “has not been easy.”  


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