Asia-Pacific

Protests in streets of Solomon Islands after Manasseh Sogavare elected as PM

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There has been a level of rioting in Honiara after the election of Solomon Islands prime minister Manasseh Sogavare.

The Royal Solomon Islands Police Force (RSIPF) is calling on citizens of Solomon Islands, especially those in the capital Honiara, to "remain calm and refrain from taking any illegal action following the election of the Prime Minister".

Manasseh Sogavare was sworn in as the new Prime Minister of the Solomon Islands after he won a vote against rival candidate Matthew Wale. 

"Please go back to your homes if you do not have any urgent business in the centre of Honiara City," RSIPF wrote in a stement posted to its Facebook page.

 

The RSIPF asked citizens to "accept the announcement of the Prime Minister with a good heart", "show respect for one another which has always been a part of our traditional culture, "and to not "become involved in any unlawful protests."

The statement comes after reports of large crowds clashing with police and throwing stones in Honiara after Mr Sogavare was elected prime minister today.

One Facebook user wrote: "c'mon good citizens of Solomon Islands. this is not the way of asking for a change".

The vote for the new prime minister follows the country's 3 April election. 

Controversially, 15 MPs abstained from the vote after Mr Wale walked out of the 50-seat parliamentary chamber, taking his supporters with him.

Of the 35 ballots cast, 34 were in favour of Mr Sogavare. One vote was marked incorrectly.

Earlier there were doubts about whether the vote would proceed after a court injunction was delivered to Parliament shortly before the vote was about to get underway.

It is thought Matthew Wale and his coalition had applied for the injunction.

However, Governor-General Sir Frank Kabui decided the vote would proceed.

Local journalist Georgina Kekea reported that those unhappy with the outcome of the vote protested outside the Parliament.

This will be Manasseh Sogavare's fourth term serving as prime minister after stints in 2000, 2006 and 2014.

His last two terms were ended prematurely after no-confidence motions.

Mr Sogavare has served back-to-back terms as MP for North East, while also holding ministerial portfolios in finance and commerce.

The future of the Solomon Islands' relationship with Taiwan is under strain, with the issue coming to the fore during the country's national elections. 

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China has invested heavily in the country's infrastructure, seeking to gain influence as the Solomon Islands maintains the diplomatic ties it has held with Taiwan since 1983.

Mr Sogavare stepped down from his role as Prime Minister in November 2017 over a political donations he allegedly accepted from Chinese companies. He has denied the claims.

Since Tsai Ing-wen became president of Taiwan in 2016, five countries in the region have severed diplomatic relations with the self-ruled island, switching diplomatic recognition to China.

Of Taiwan's 17 remaining diplomatic partners, six are Pacific island states.

Since 2016 and the election of Tsai Ing-wen as Taiwan's president, the island has lost five nations as diplomatic partners.

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20 June 2018: Tattooing returns to Solomon Islands after decades-long ban
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Of the Taiwan's 17 remaining diplomatic partners, six are Pacific island nations, with Solomon Islands the largest Pacific partner based on its 600,000 population.

Analysts say China is working hard on getting the Solomons to break off ties with Taiwan.

"China is trying very hard to get them to change sides, and I am sure they would heavily incentivise that swap, but Taiwan is equally eager to have the Solomon Islands remain. It is not standing still, and will also be proactive in incentivizing them to remain," Jonathan Pryke, director of the Pacific islands program at the Sydney-based Lowy Institute, told the Nikkei Asian Review. 

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