China-friendly Jeremiah Manele picked as Solomon Islands PM by lawmakers

Solomon Islands lawmakers selected a new prime minister in a secret ballot on Thursday, choosing foreign minister Jeremiah Manele, who has pledged to continue the Pacific island nation’s foreign policy that saw it grow close to China.

Governor General David Vunagi announced outside parliament house that Manele had won 31 votes, to opposition leader Matthew Wale’s 18 votes.

Police have boosted security in the capital Honiara as newly elected lawmakers arrived at parliament on Thursday to vote.

A national election last month failed to deliver a majority to any political party, and two camps lobbied to win support from independents ahead of the vote for prime minister.

The election is being closely watched by China, the US and neighbouring Australia because of the potential impact on regional security, after incumbent Prime Minister Manasseh Sogavare struck a security pact with China in 2022.

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Sogavare, who built close ties with Beijing during five years in power, did not seek re-election to the top political office and his party backed Manele.

“The people have spoken,” Manele said, praising the fact there was no repeat of past violence.

“We have shown the world today that we are better than that.”

Manele’s OUR party, which has pledged to build more infrastructure, won 15 seats, and gained four seats under a renewed coalition with two micro parties. It needed support from independents to reach 26 seats for a majority in the 50-seat parliament. A total of 49 votes were cast with one lawmaker absent.

Lowy Institute research fellow Mihai Sora, a former Australian diplomat in the Solomon Islands, said Manele has “a strong track record of working well with all international partners”, compared to Sogavare who was “a polarising figure”.

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China confirms signing of Solomon Islands security pact, as US warns of regional instability

China confirms signing of Solomon Islands security pact, as US warns of regional instability

Australian National University’s Pacific expert Graeme Smith said Manele was capable and “a big change in style” for the Solomon Islands.

Wale, in a 20-seat coalition of opposition parties called Care, said on Wednesday the government had failed to create jobs and the economy was dominated by logging and mining companies which shipped resources to China, while health clinics were unable to obtain basic medications such as paracetamol.

Manele was foreign minister in 2019 when Solomon Islands turned its back on Taiwan and established diplomatic relations with Beijing.

Manele vowed a “government of national unity” that would focus on improving the economy and “progress on our road to recovery” after the Covid-19 pandemic.

He said bills on a value-added tax, establishing a special economic zone and rules around national resources would be at the top of the new government’s agenda.

Additional reporting by Agence France-Presse

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