May 27th, 2024

Solomon Islands lawmakers elect former Foreign Minister Jeremiah Manele as new prime minister

By Rod Mcguirk, The Associated Press on May 1, 2024.

MELBOURNE, Australia (AP) – Solomon Islands lawmakers on Thursday chose former Foreign Minister Jeremiah Manele as the new prime minister of the South Pacific island nation that has grown closer to China in recent years.

The withdrawal of pro-Beijing former Prime Minister Manasseh Sogavare from the contest to make way for Manele as their party’s candidate is an indication the country could follow a similar direction.

The prime minister was chosen in a secret ballot of 49 lawmakers who won general elections on April 17.

Governor General David Vunagi said Manele received 31 votes. Matthew Wale, who led the opposition in the previous parliament, received the remaining 18 votes.

Sogavare had hoped to become the first Solomons prime minister to maintain power in consecutive four-year terms following the election. During his previous term, China’s influence increased more in the Solomons than anywhere else in the South Pacific.

Sogavare switched diplomatic recognition from Taiwan to Beijing and struck a secret security pact that has raised fears of the Chinese navy gaining a foothold in the region.

Meg Keen, the director of the Pacific Islands program for Lowy Institute, a Sydney-based international policy think tank, said Manele will be a “less fiery and combative leader for the West to manage but he will continue to pursue close relations with China.”

“As the former foreign minister he helped broker the security deal with China that panicked the West. But he is also a seasoned diplomat with experience at the UN and in western countries — he’s no stranger to western engagement,” Keen said in an email.

She said Sogavare had pulled out of the race because his party’s loss of several lawmakers at the election was evidence that voters wanted change.

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This story has corrected the candidate’s surname to Manele.

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