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Sogvare Out, Manele In: Making Sense of the Solomon Islands Elections

Aditi Dhaundiyal, Intern, Southeast Asia and Oceania Centre, Manohar Parrikar Institute for Defence Studies and Analyses (MP-IDSA), New Delhi
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  • May 31, 2024


    On 17 April 2024, over 300,000 eligible voters across 50 constituencies in the Solomon Islands participated in the island country’s first ever Joint Election1 overseen by 400 independent observers. This landmark exercise of democratic rights was supported by the European Union, the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP), and Australia, Fiji, Papua New Guinea and New Zealand.2 Troops from these countries were deployed in Solomon Islands to provide logistical support and security.

    Australia’s financial contribution towards the conduct of the Joint Elections stood at AU$ 25 million.3 Its assistance to Hoinara, in cooperation with Solomon Islands Electoral Commission (SIEC), included the deployment of additional Australian Federal Police (AFP) and Australian Defence Force (ADF) personnel, training electoral officials, logistical support, a delegation of four parliamentary observers, and other initiatives.4

    Similarly, the Royal New Zealand Air Force deployed two of its No. 3 Squadron helicopters to aid New Zealand Defence Force’s Joint Task Force cooperation with SIEC, in its efforts at ensuring the successful collection and delivery of polling kits and ballot across the 29,000 km² expanse of Solomon Islands.5

    The Results

    The results of National General Elections (NGE) created quite a buzz in the country. With the incumbent government failing to secure adequate votes in order to return to power, despite holding the highest number of seats, the major parties resorted to coalition building and lobbying. Manasseh Sogavare’s inability to obtain a decisive victory over his political rivals led to his exit from the Prime Ministerial race, ultimately making way for Jeremiah Manele’s nomination and subsequent election as the new Prime Minister of the Solomon Islands.

    Sogavare, the face of the Ownership, Unity and Responsibility Party’s (OUR) electoral campaign, had worked hard to project development as a major deliverable of the incumbent Democratic Coalition Government for Advancement (DCGA). However, the development agenda did not galvanise public support in the way that the DCGA would have imagined.

    The incumbent Democratic Coalition Government for Advancement (DCGA), led by OUR Party, polled at a dismal 27.3 per cent of the total vote share, with a combined tally of 18 seats.6 Sogavare himself witnessed a 10.5 percentage point drop in vote share at his constituency of East Choiseul.7 To his credit, in spite of the underwhelming electoral performance, Sogavare’s OUR Party managed to fare better than its rivals, having secured 15 seats out of the total 50 seats in the National Parliament.8

    The inconclusive election results left the political parties scrambling to form the national government.  The Coalition for Accountability, Reform, and Empowerment (CARE), led by Matthew Wale, signed a coalition agreement with the Solomon Islands United Party (SIUP).  Altogether, the four-party coalition was able to secure 20 seats in the parliament, yet fell short of 26 seats majority needed to form the government.9


    Ownership Unity Responsibility Party


    Solomon Islands Peoples First Party


    Solomon Islands Democratic Party (SIDP)


    Democratic Alliance Party (DAP)


    IUMI for Change Party


    Solomon Islands United Party (UP)


    Kandere Party


    Solomon Islands Party for Rural Advancement (SIPRA)







    In a surprising turn of events, Sogavare announced his exit from the Prime Ministerial race four days prior to the selection of the new Prime Minister by Solomon Island lawmakers.10 Instead, he put his weight behind the nomination of Jeremiah Manele, the Foreign Minister under the DCGA dispensation. Eventually, Manele emerged victorious against fellow contender and CARE leader Matthew Wale, winning 31 votes out of 49.11

    The new Government for National Unity and Transformation (CNUT) has 28 members in the National Parliament.12 It is reasonable to speculate that the absence of a landslide victory could make it relatively harder for the incoming government to pass contentious legislations, unlike CNUT’s predecessor that benefitted from commanding a comfortable two-thirds majority of 33 seats in the National Parliament.13 The general elections results reflect the public’s lukewarm response to Sogavare’s domestic and foreign policy priorities.

    On the other hand, it is necessary to note that although the vocal anti-China faction led by firebrand politicians Matthew Wale and Kenilorea Jr. was able to secure 20 seats, the bloc was yet unable to successfully prevent the OUR Party from returning to power. Therefore, the opposition’s failure to win a majority may be interpreted as Chinese influence in the country having not been outwardly rejected by the public.

    Seeking a Balance at the Provincial Level?

    A notable result at the provincial level was the former Malaita premier Daniel Suidani’s re-election to the provincial assembly. His vocal opposition to Chinese inroads in Solomon Islands, having taken a concrete form through the Auki Communiqué, and his subsequent ouster brought him international fame as one of the public faces of anti-Chinese sentiment in the country. Certain provisions within the Suidani government’s Auki Communiqué caused friction between the provincial government and the Centre. Sudaini’s ban on projects with “investors connected directly or indirectly with the Chinese Communist Party” was deemed problematic by the Sogavare administration in its quest to open up the island country to Chinese investment.14

    The provincial government had suspended the Fiu Bridge reconstruction project, funded by the World Bank under the Solomon Islands Road and Aviation Project (SIRAP), upon China Harbour Engineering winning the bid.15 What followed was a political tussle between the governments, resulting in a no-confidence motion that removed Suidani from office in 2023. The succeeding Malaita New Government for Fundamental Redirection (MNGFR) provincial government led by Martin Fini announced the repeal of Auki Communique as one of its first orders since formation, re-opening the province to Chinese investment.16

    The Fini administration also signed an MOU on “Sister Relationship between Malaita Province and Jiangsu Province of China” just a few days prior to the Joint Elections.17 The elections, however, have denied the Malaita premier a re-election to the provincial assembly.18 On the other hand, Suidani has emerged victorious, having secured 54.9 per cent of votes in his constituency of West Fataleka.19 In his interview with The Sunday Guardian regarding the post-election lobbying, Suidani discussed the opposition’s outreach to his camp with the implicit support of Sogavare’s party. He alleged the opposition’s promise of projects and money in order to win support for their provincial candidates.20

    However, in a surprising turn of events, Suidani announced his withdrawal from the premiership nomination a week prior to the elections in Auki.21 Subsequently, Kwato’o from the Suidani camp lost to Elijah Asilaua 12 votes to 21. Although his province has already opened to Chinese projects under the Fini administration, Suidani camp’s victory could have possibly acted as a bulwark against further PRC involvement in Malaita, thereby creating an interesting interplay of Centre–States relations. Contrary to the policy direction of their rival faction, the triumphant Malaita Government for Redirection, led by new Premier Asilaua is set to continue the former premier’s favourable policy towards China.22

    Foreign Policy Implications

    Given his role as the Foreign Minister at the time of the 2019 realignment, and the increasing economic dependence on China, Manele can be expected to continue the DCGA dispensation’s policy of close cooperation with the PRC. However, the new CNUT administration may tone down the anti-West rhetoric.23 Sogavare, the poster child of Chinese influence in the Pacific, had become a very polarising figure in the region’s geopolitical landscape.

    Having branded the first US-Pacific Island Forum Leader’s Summit as an unproductive exercise, the fiery Solomon Island PM skipped the second edition to reportedly avoid Washington’s “lectures”.24 He antagonised the country’s traditional developmental partner, the Republic of China-Taiwan, by “misrepresenting” the UNGA Resolution 2758 to justify the 2019 switch of diplomatic recognition to the People’s Republic of China.25

    Predictably, Sogavare’s 2024 electoral campaign featured pro-China messaging. His political rally in Auki, capital of the Malaita province that resisted Chinese projects under the premiership of Daniel Suidani, sought to push a pro-China narrative. In his speech, Sogavare chastised “democracy” for encouraging LGBTQ advocacy around the globe, hailed the Chinese “socialist system of government” and its economic model, and attempted to justify the 2019 diplomatic switch to the PRC by claiming that the decision “put the Solomon Islands on the map”.26

    Analysts such as Mihai Sora reckon that although a continuation in the pro-China policy is certain, Manele will be more receptive to dialogue with Australia and the United States than his predecessor.27 The focus of Manele’s tenure will remain on domestic issues such as health, infrastructure and the economy. Delivering development for the local population will be the topmost priority for the CNUT administration.

    Once a seasoned diplomat, Manele will find himself seeking positive engagement with developmental partners, thus entailing a balanced approach towards China and other regional powers. Although the status of “partner of choice” is unlikely for Canberra in the near future, Manele’s appraisal of Australia as an “equal partner” vis-à-vis China is an indicator of a less turbulent bilateral relationship.

    Similarly, the United States may also aim for a relative amelioration of ties with Hoinara in the absence of Sogavare at the helm of affairs. However, the presence of Sogavare in the cabinet as the new Finance Minister may influence the foreign policy decisions of CNUT, acting as a variable in any potential rapprochement efforts with the United States.

    Views expressed are of the author and do not necessarily reflect the views of the Manohar Parrikar IDSA or of the Government of India.