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Solomon Islands select China-friendly Jeremiah Manele as new PM

Jeremiah Manele, pictured in 2022, has pledged to keep the same foreign policy basis: "friends to all and enemies to none".

Jeremiah Manele, pictured in 2022, has pledged to keep the same foreign policy basis: "friends to all and enemies to none". Photo: Getty

Solomon Islands MPs have selected Jeremiah Manele as their new prime minister, elevating the former foreign minister who has pledged to continue the Pacific Island nation’s international policy that drew it closer to China.

Manele won 31 votes to Opposition leader Matthew Wales’ 18 votes in the 50-seat parliament, Governor-General Sir David Vunagi announced outside parliament house on Thursday.

A national election in April resulted in the government of pro-Beijing prime minister Manasseh Sogavare losing half of its seats but failed to deliver a majority to any political party.

The government and opposition parties lobbied intensively for weeks to win support from independents before the vote for prime minister.

The election was closely watched by China, the United States and Australia because of the potential impact on regional security after Sogavare struck a controversial security pact with China in 2022.

Australia’s Prime Minister Anthony Albanese said he looked forward to working closely with Manele.

“Australia and Solomon Islands are close friends and our futures are connected,” he wrote on social media platform X.

China’s embassy said in a Facebook post it looked forward to “working with you to develop China-Solomon Islands relations and deliver more benefits to our peoples”.

Sogavare, who built close ties with Beijing during five years in power but only narrowly held his seat, did not seek re-election to the top office and his party backed Manele.

Wale’s opposition coalition had criticised the arrival of Chinese police in Solomons in 2022 and favoured returning to closer ties with traditional aid donors such as Australia and accepting infrastructure aid from the United States.

Manele used his first speech as leader to promise to govern with integrity and to put his nation’s interests first.

“I will discharge my duties diligently and with integrity. I will at all times put the interests of our people and country above all other interests,” Manele said.

He also urged against any post-election violence.

“Today we show the world we are better than that – we must respect the democratic process for electing our prime minister,” he said.

The economy was slowly recovering from the Covid-19 pandemic and 2021 anti-government riots, and the government would soon unveil tax, forestry and minerals policies, he said.

Manele is a former diplomat who entered parliament in 2014, and travelled to China as foreign minister in 2019 to formalise Solomon Islands’ switch in diplomatic ties from Taiwan to Beijing.

On Monday, Manele said he would keep the “same foreign policy basis: friends to all and enemies to none”.

Sogavare’s election in 2019 sparked riots in the capital Honiara over legal questions hanging over his eligibility to become prime minister.

More serious riots resulted in arson and looting in Honiara in November 2021 after his leadership survived a no-confidence motion moved by Wale.

Sogavare had maintained Australia was his country’s preferred security partner despite the bilateral deal with Beijing signed in 2022.

Chinese police trainers are in the capital Hoinara under the terms of that deal.

Australian police have been maintaining public order in Honiara since Sogavare invited them in late 2021 following the unrest under a 2017 bilateral security treaty that provides a legal basis for the deployment of police, troops and associated civilians in the event of a major security challenge.

Lowy Institute research fellow Mihai Sorformer Australian diplomat in the Solomon Islands, said Manele had “a strong track record of working well with all international partners” compared with Sogavare who was “a polarising figure”.

Australian National University’s Pacific expert Graeme Smith said Manele was capable and “a big change in style” for the Solomon Islands.

-Reuters, with AP

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