Solomon Islands Leader Survives No-Confidence Vote Amid Increasing Discontent

Solomon Islands Leader Survives No-Confidence Vote Amid Increasing Discontent
Prime Minister Manasseh Sogavare speaks at a press conference inside the Parliament House in Honiara, Solomons Islands on April 24, 2019. (Robert Taupongi/AFP via Getty Images)
Daniel Y. Teng

A no-confidence vote against Solomon Islands Prime Minister Manasseh Sogavare has failed in the country’s Parliament amid increasing unrest and dissatisfaction with his tenure as the Pacific nation’s leader.

On Dec. 6, Sogavare’s backers easily voted down the motion of no confidence, 32 to 15. However, the prime minister gave a scathing, 90-minute address against his detractors beforehand, saying he would not give in to “Taiwan’s agents” or the “forces of evil.”

“This is the time to stand united. We must never fail, never fall, to those who want to advance their own selfish gains in the guise of democracy,” he told MPs.

The prime minister was referring to unrest that erupted in late November in the capital Honiara.

The protests and subsequent arson attacks, which Solomon Island police also believe could have caused the death of three people, was a manifestation of years of dissatisfaction with the Islands’ leadership, including concerns over corruption in government and delivery of essential services.

However, it has been the prime minister’s links to Beijing that have garnered international attention, including allegations of blatant bribery to pro-Beijing ministers.

Prior to that, in September 2019, the Solomon Islands dropped diplomatic recognition of Taiwan in favour of the People’s Republic of China (PRC).

Daniel Suidani, premier of Malaita—the most populous province in the nation—has staunchly refused to follow his federal counterpart’s lead in rejecting Taiwan. Instead, he has maintained ties with Taiwanese leaders—much to the chagrin of Sogavare.

This divide has exacerbated existing divisions between Malaita and the capital. In fact, it is alleged that many protestors hailed from the island.

Sogavare further claimed that a vote approving a no-confidence motion against him would send a “very dangerous message to our people and future generations.”

“Whenever we are not happy with those in authority, we take the laws into our own hands,” he said.

Opposition leader Matthew Wale, who introduced the motion, spoke out against the prime minister’s record and raised allegations of corruption.

In a speech that spanned three different languages, Wale said there was a “toxic culture” in the government and accused Sogavare of engaging in “state capture” and “selling this country—its resources, its birthright.”

State capture refers to the practice of introducing systemic corruption into a political system until it can no longer function for the public good.

“The prime minister is dependent on the National Development Fund money to maintain his political strength,” Wale further added, referring to the government slush fund supported by Beijing. It has been allegedly distributed to key MPs by the Prime Minister.

“How is he then supposed to make decisions that are wholly only in the interests of Solomon Islands, untainted or undiluted by considerations of the (CCP) funds?”

Currently, Australian, New Zealand (NZ), Papua New Guinean, and Fijian forces are on the ground to maintain law and order in the region.

Australian ministers have been keen to emphasise that their presence is for the purpose of maintaining peace and not to get involved in the local democratic process.

“It is up to the people of the Solomon Islands through their government, through their Parliament, and ultimately answerable to their people, to make these judgments, and of course to be accountable,” Zed Seselja, minister for the Pacific, told Sky News Australia.

Unrest in the Solomon Islands comes amid a wider tug-of-war between democratic allies and Beijing for influence in the South Pacific—while natural resources are scarce, the region does have strategic value as a forward outpost for Beijing’s military adventurism, according to experts.
Daniel Y. Teng is based in Brisbane, Australia. He focuses on national affairs including federal politics, COVID-19 response, and Australia-China relations. Got a tip? Contact him at [email protected].