Solomon Islands elects Jeremiah Manele as new prime minister | Elections News

Former foreign minister wins support of 31 legislators in 50-member house in an election closely watched by China, US and Australia.

Legislators in the Solomon Islands have elected former Foreign Minister Jeremiah Manele as their new prime minister.

Manele, who has pledged to continue the Pacific nation’s China-friendly foreign policy, won 31 votes in a secret ballot on Thursday.

His opponent, longtime opposition leader Matthew Wale, secured 18 votes.

The vote in the 50-member parliament took place amid heightened security in the capital, Honiara, with squadrons of police patrolling the parliamentary grounds to ward off potential unrest.

Manele, speaking outside the parliament, praised the fact there was no repeat of past violence.

“The people have spoken,” he said. “We have shown the world today that we are better than that.”

Manele’s appointment comes after a national election last month failed to deliver a majority to any political party. The two camps had lobbied to win support from independents in the 50-member chamber ahead of Thursday’s vote for the prime minister.

The election is being closely watched by China, the United States and neighbouring Australia because of the potential impact on regional security after outgoing Prime Minister Manasseh Sogavare struck a security pact with China in 2022.

Sogavare, who built close ties with Beijing during five years in power, did not seek re-election to the top political office and his party backed Manele. The politician was foreign minister in 2019 when Solomon Islands turned its back on Taiwan and established diplomatic relations with Beijing.

Manele’s OUR party, which has pledged to develop the island nation’s infrastructure, won 15 seats, and gained four seats under a renewed coalition with two micro-parties. It needed support from independents to reach the 26 seats needed for a majority. A total of 49 votes were cast with one legislator absent.

Lowy Institute research fellow Mihai Sora, a former Australian diplomat in the Solomon Islands, said Manele has “a strong track record of working well with all international partners”, compared to 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.

Manele has pledged a “government of national unity” that would focus on improving the economy and “progress on our road to recovery” after the COVID-19 pandemic. He said bills on a value-added tax, establishing a special economic zone and rules around national resources would be at the top of the new government’s agenda.

Wale, the opposition leader who heads a 20-seat coalition of parties called CARE, said on Wednesday that the government had failed to create jobs, and the economy was dominated by logging and mining companies, which shipped resources to China, while health clinics were unable to obtain basic medications such as paracetamol.

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