Solomon Islands Election Counting Complete, as Negotiations Begin to Find a Prime Minister

Counting is complete in the Solomon Islands election, with no party gaining a clear majority. Incumbent prime minister Manasseh Sogavare’s party gained the most seats, but there are many challengers for the top job. What’s next? An intense negotiation period to form a government and prime minister takes place, which one expert says is “corrupt”. An intense period of political horse-trading is underway in what one expert labelled an “extraordinary process” where “acts of corruption” historically take place. The main political parties and their winning MPs will now divide into camps in hotels across the capital Honiara to try and build a governing coalition and select a prime minister. The process is expected to take weeks. The incumbent, pro-China prime minister Manasseh Sogavare, leads a crowded pack, even though his party lost more than half its seats, finishing the count with 15 MPs. In Solomon Islands, 26 MPs are needed to form a government. In an interview with local media site Tavuli News after the count was confirmed, Mr Sogavare said the “first big battle is over”.  “The next step is the formation of government,” he said.

“We still have a very weak party system in the Solomon Islands which we need to improve so that we can have the certainty so that when people are elected you can tell which party will be taking government. It’s hard to do that at this time.” Sogavare said. Mr. Sogavare is attempting to make history by becoming the first sitting Solomon Islands prime minister to serve a full-term and be re-elected prime minister. It would be his fifth stint in the top job. In this latest stint, Mr. Sogavare attracted international attention by drawing Solomon Islands closer to Beijing since switching diplomatic recognition from Taiwan. His decision to sign a security pact with China in 2022, as well as opening the door to Chinese police to conduct training in the country, sent shock waves through Canberra. His latest term has also been defined by his controversial embrace of China’s governing style and his combative stoushes with western democracies, such as Australia and the United States.

And in a further escalation of that tension, Mr. Sogavare used this week’s interview with local media to make unsubstantiated claims about what he said was influence by the United States in the election in his home province. In the interview, he claimed the US “promised” to pay for the school fees of those who voted for his rival. “It’s geopolitics at work here,” he said. “I’m going to write a letter to the United States of America, the US Embassy. “Our people, the people who voted for me, they’re saying let the United States pay for these other voters … you look after us.” Prominent China critic, ousted Malaita premier Daniel Suidani, has regained his provincial seat in the election. The competition to knock Mr. Sogavare out of office is mixed — and complicated. The main opposition block, led by long-time opposition leader Matthew Wale, has taken 13 seats in the parliament. Another main opposition party, led by Peter Kelinoria Jnr, the son of the country’s first prime minister, has taken seven seats. Both men have committed to reassessing the country’s lean towards China, however, it is not yet confirmed whether those two opposition parties will join forces.

Yet, it is the 10 independent MPs elected from last week’s poll that look set to becoming kingmakers in the formation of any government. And then there is the outlier. Former prime minister Gordon Darcy Lilo — the single representative of the Party for Rural Advancement — won his seat in a landslide, and political watchers say he could become a contender.  Speaking to the ABC, Mr. Darcy Lilo criticised Mr Sogavare’s leadership during the past five years. He said nothing had changed for the better in Solomon Islands.  The former prime minister said he would look to pull together some small independents in a grouping, an idea he said was “gaining momentum”.  However, he was coy on whether he would run for prime minister. “You’ve got to play yourself out, and act smartly, that’s how I’ve played my politics before,” he said. “I had been prime minister before, I was never selfish about it. I love this country. And I want this country to progress more. Independent election observers have reported back following last week’s poll, commending Solomon Islanders for a largely transparent and peaceful election.

Yet, from today, the stakes are raised as successful MPs, and their political parties, horse-trade behind closed doors in hotel rooms and restaurants across the capital to try and form government and lock in a prime minister. In Solomon Islands, there are large pay and benefits disparity between government MPs, opposition members and independent MPs once the government is settled. In the Solomon Islands, no political party can independently form government. Australian National University’s Department of Pacific Affairs senior fellow Graeme Smith described this negotiation period to form government as an “extraordinary process”. “Basically, people divide into camps and all sorts of lobbying goes on,” he told the ABC. “And all sorts of acts of corruption also takes place in order to sway the MPs. “Essentially it comes down to who is the most charismatic person in the room. So, it’s an entertaining month in store, I’d say.” Veteran Solomon Islands journalist Dorothy Wickham told the ABC’s Pacific Beat program there had already been “some movement” among elected MPs. “There were already certain MPs being seen at certain camps that didn’t belong there before,” she said. “With the election for the prime minister, it’s a secret ballot. It can just swing anywhere at the last minute.”

Source: ABCNews

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