Pro-China candidate wins Solomon Islands PM vote

Lawmakers in the Solomon Islands have selected a pro-China candidate as their prime minister, in an indication the Pacific nation will remain a close Beijing ally.

Jeremiah Manele won the prime minister vote on Thursday, beating out his opponent Matthew Wale in a 31-18 count.

He will succeed former PM Manasseh Sogavare, a vocal critic of the West.

Mr Manele was foreign minister in 2019, when the Solomons chose to switch its longstanding diplomatic recognition of Taiwan to China – a move that shocked regional neighbours.

He has already indicated that he will continue the nation’s close ties with China – including the island’s secretive defence and security pact. Opposition candidates had suggested the deal could be revoked, or at the very least have its full details disclosed to the public.

But analysts also expect Mr Manele to take a less confrontational approach to the Solomons’ traditional Western partners like Australia than his predecessor. He is also seen as a more diplomatic communicator.

The Pacific election closely watched by China and the West

Australian Prime Minister Anthony Albanese was among the first to congratulate Mr Manele on Wednesday saying he looked forward to working closely with the new leader.

“Australia and Solomon Islands are close friends and our futures are connected,” he wrote on X, formerly known as Twitter.
REUTERS Solomon Islanders voted in a national election in AprilREUTERS
Solomon Islanders voted in a national election in April

Voters elected MPs across the country in the April vote, but the prime minister and leadership are determined by elected representatives in a poll which took place Thursday morning.

Mr Sogavare in a surprise move chose not to enter the prime minister race last week after his party received weaker than expected results in the 17 April general election.

He instead formed a new coalition and endorsed Mr Manele as the party’s prime ministerial candidate.

Mr Sogavare became an increasingly polarising figure in his five years in office, during which China rapidly increased investment into the country.

He stood behind Mr Manele as the new leader addressed media on Thursday after his win.

“I will at all times put the interests of our people and country above all others,” said Mr Manele said.

He also noted that the election had proceeded peacefully – the Solomon Islands has previously experienced violence and street riots in the wake of votes.

Hundreds of police and military officers from Australia, New Zealand, Fiji and Papua New Guinea have been stationed in the country since last month as a peacekeeping force.

“Today we show the world we are better than that – we must respect the democratic process for electing our prime minister,” Mr Manele said.

He said his government would aim to improving the economic situation for locals who have endured cost of living hikes.

About 700,000 people live in the impoverished country which is made up of hundreds of islands.

More than 80% live outside the capital Honiara and do not have easy access to basic services such as electricity, schools, medical clinics and mass transport.