Solomon Islands’ pro-Beijing prime minister survives vote of confidence and blames’ Taiwan agents’ for crisis
The embattled Prime Minister of the Solomon Islands, Manasseh Sogavare, survived a vote of no confidence on Monday, as he accused “agents of Taiwan” of orchestrating the recent political violence that plunged the Pacific island nation into crisis.
The pro-Beijing leader comfortably saw an attempt by the opposition to topple him, winning 32 votes to 15 after a bitter and short-tempered debate.
The feverish scenes in parliament, in which lawmakers exchanged claims of corruption, coups and grim foreign support, echoed recent anger on the streets that prompted the arrival of hundreds of international peacekeepers.
Three days of rioting late last month left the Chinatown area of the capital Honiara in ruins and claimed at least three lives, with dozens of buildings destroyed.
Ahead of Monday’s vote, armed troops and police from neighboring Australia, Fiji, Papua New Guinea and New Zealand helped operate checkpoints in rain-soaked downtown Honiara to prevent further unrest.
They used shipping containers to seal off rubble-strewn areas of the capital, closed the port to ferries from neighboring islands, and enforced a city-wide ban on alcoholic beverages.
Authorities also warned people not to post inflammatory statements on social media. The prospect of more violence prompted the US consulate in Honiara to restrict operations.
The crisis erupted late last month when protests over Sogavare’s policies turned violent, fueled by poverty, unemployment and inter-island rivalries in the nation of 800,000 people.
The prime minister rejected protesters’ demands to resign, telling parliament on Monday that leaving office in such circumstances would be surrendering “to the dictates of the hooligans and anarchy.”
“We cannot consider that violence is used to overthrow a democratically elected government,” he said.
Large numbers of people were seen leaving the capital for the provinces on chartered ferries on Sunday before the vote of no-confidence, expecting more trouble.
Many of Sogavare’s detractors come from Malaita. Residents believe that the country’s most populous island does not receive a fair share of revenue from resources and is neglected by the central government.
An underlying complaint against Sogavare is his 2019 decision to shift Honiara’s diplomatic allegiance to China from Taiwan, which had close ties to Malaita.
China and Taiwan have competed for influence in the Pacific for decades, with both sides using development aid as bait, while Beijing tries to isolate a rival it sees as a rogue province resisting unification.
Sogavare said the opposition had conspired with Taiwan to incite the 2019 change unrest in an “attempted coup,” although he did not offer strong evidence.
“If I am to be removed from office, it must be by legal process, by members of parliament, not by calls to resign from Taiwan’s agents,” the 66-year-old said during an often furious two-hour parliamentary speech.
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At one point, the veteran leader stood up and slammed his chair up and down as he yelled at opposition leader Matthew Wale, who introduced the motion.
Wale accused Sogavare of using Chinese funds to prop up his government, saying “foreign cronies” were allowed to strip the country’s natural assets.
The opposition leader condemned last month’s unrest, but added that it “pales in comparison to the looting that occurs at the top at the expense of ordinary Solomon Islanders.”
Wale claimed that Beijing and Sogavare were channeling payments to secure support before the vote of no confidence.
The central bank put the damage caused by the riots at $ 67 million, saying 63 buildings in the capital were burned and looted.
He said the unrest would cost around 1,000 jobs and stifle economic growth, warning that the country was experiencing “development backwards.”