Solomon Islands: pro-Beijing candidate Jeremiah Manele elected prime minister

Former pro-China diplomat Jeremiah Manele was elected Prime Minister of the Solomon Islands, a Commonwealth member country, on Thursday May 2

Solomon Islands: pro-Beijing candidate Jeremiah Manele elected prime minister

Former pro-China diplomat Jeremiah Manele was elected Prime Minister of the Solomon Islands, a Commonwealth member country, on Thursday May 2. In Parliament, Mr Manele won 31 votes out of 50 in a secret ballot, the Pacific country's governor-general, David Vunagi, announced. His rival, opposition leader Matthew Wale, unfavorable to Beijing, obtained 18 votes.

“The people have spoken,” said Mr. Manele, welcoming the fact that the vote took place without violence: “We showed the world today that we are better than that.”

Elections are often turbulent in the Solomon Islands, a country of some 720,000 people. In 2000, Prime Minister Bart Ulufa’alu was forced to resign after being kidnapped by disgruntled gunmen, and in 2006, international peacekeeping forces were deployed to quell post-election violence.

A security pact signed with Beijing in 2022

Mr. Manele was serving as foreign minister in 2019, when the Solomon Islands turned away from Taiwan by establishing diplomatic ties with Beijing. Observers expect the new head of government to continue the archipelago's friendly policy towards China.

The outgoing Prime Minister, Manasseh Sogavare, who did not run in this election, had signed a security pact with Beijing in 2022. Although the details of this agreement remain obscure, Washington and Canberra fear that it will be a first step leading to the establishment of a permanent Chinese military base in the South Pacific; such a scenario could be a game-changer in terms of regional security.

The prime minister-elect has promised “a government of national unity” that will focus on improving the economy and “progress on our road to recovery” from the Covid-19 pandemic. Bills around value added tax (VAT) or the establishment of a special economic zone are among the announced priorities of the new government.