Hiccups in Solomon Islands election, but results expected soon

Electoral officers verify a ballot box at a vote counting centre in Honiara on Thursday.

Electoral officers verify a ballot box at a vote counting centre in Honiara on Thursday. Photo: AFP/Getty

Mistakes have happened in the Solomon Islands election, but authorities are confident they will not affect the result.

The strategically located Pacific nation, whose rapidly deepening ties with China have grabbed international headlines, held its biggest election on Wednesday, with more than 420,000 registered voters having the chance to pick their next leaders.

But in a handful of the 1100 polling stations across the nation’s hundreds of islands, electoral officials mistakenly handed out ballot papers meant to be reserved for rare occasions.

When the error became clear on Thursday, a decision was made to accept the votes as they had been cast.

The country’s electoral commissioner said he was satisfied with the level of training for his 6000 electoral officers and shielded them from blame.

“Mistakes happen. We are just humans,” Jasper Highwood Anisi told reporters.

Movement of ballot boxes and verification processes had him confident results for the 50-seat parliament would begin flowing at the weekend.

“I’m estimating that late Sunday or early Monday, most of the (national) constituency results should be out,” he said.

The election has been keenly watched by US allies and China, having been the first vote since Honiara’s recognition of Beijing prompted a torrent of funds flowing from communist superpower.

Close neighbour and the Solomons’ largest donor, Australia, earlier said it would work closely with pro-Beijing leader Manasseh Sogavare if he maintained power.

The 69-year-old, whose cosying up to China defined his last term and his election platform, is the frontrunner to form government, though he faces many rivals including former prime ministers.

He is expected to travel to the capital, Honiara, once results are declared in his East Choiseul seat and other electorates.

“Whatever those results are, whatever government is ultimately formed in the Solomon Islands, we will endeavour to work very closely with them,” Deputy Prime Minister Richard Marles told ABC.

Marles said Australia took heart from the fact Sogavare had made clear he did not want a foreign military base in the Solomons.

Australia and other US allies were spooked in 2022 after Sogavare struck a security pact with Beijing that brought Chinese police to the island.

The Solomons, like most Pacific nations, has no military but local police can request assistance from foreign forces, usually Australia and New Zealand.

The 2022 pact, for which only some details have been publicised, was struck months after major riots in the capital, which particularly devastated Honiara’s Chinatown.

The widespread damage amounted to about 6.5 per cent of GDP, with the scars still evident today.

The Chinese money comes as the Solomons recently slid backwards on the United Nations Human Development Index to 156th, marginally ahead of Syria and Haiti.

It has struggled to keep its youthful population in schooling while gross national income per capita languishes about $US2270 ($3520).

Long-time women’s rights activist and candidate Afu Billy, who campaigned on a message of leaving no one behind, said she hoped the next parliament could diversify the economy worth $US1.8 billion ($2.8 billion) annually.

“We need to vote in members of parliament who do things that are not business as usual,” she told AAP on Thursday.

“Last year there were about 30,000 tourists who came to the Solomons and brought in about $SB500 million ($100 million).

“Just think if we had a million tourists.”

Whatever the results, it only forms stage one of deciding the country’s next leadership.

Unless Sogavare’s revived Ownership, Unity and Responsibility Party wins an unprecedented majority, MPs-elect will begin horse trading in Honiara hotels next week to form a coalition government.

Negotiations can take weeks.

This article was made possible through the Melbourne Press Club’s Michael Gordon Journalism Fellowship Program


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