Explainer-China, health system top issues as Solomon Islands holds national election

Solomon Islands Prime Minister Manasseh Sogavare visits China

(Reuters) -The Solomon Islands holds a national election on Wednesday, the first since Prime Minister Manasseh Sogavare signed a security pact with China that prompted concern from the United States and South Pacific neighbours.

Sogavare has pledged closer ties with China, which has built infrastructure since Solomon Islands switched diplomatic recognition from Taiwan to Beijing in 2019, while opposition parties favour ties with Western aid donors including Australia, and pledge to fix a broken health system.

The national election was delayed from 2023, after Sogavare said he wanted to focus on the Pacific Games, hosted in stadiums donated by China.


Located 1,600 km (900 miles) northeast of Australia, Solomon Islands has a population of around 700,000 across an archipelago of six main islands: Choiseul, Guadalcanal, Makira, Malaita, New Georgia and Santa Isabel.

Elections for the national parliament and provincial assemblies will be held on the same day.

Polling booths opened at 7 a.m. (2000 GMT, April 16) and close at 4 p.m. (0500 GMT), with an alcohol ban in place for a week. A campaigning blackout starts April 16.

The 50 members of the national parliament are elected for a four year term. The prime minister is selected after polling day by a vote of newly elected lawmakers, a process that can take several weeks.


Sogavare became prime minister at the 2019 election after being elected to his seat of East Choiseul as an independent candidate. This time, he is running as leader of the OUR (Ownership, Unity, Responsibility) party.

He has been prime minister four times, but no Solomon Islands prime minister has been re-elected for consecutive terms.

Historically, political party coalitions have been fluid. Independent candidates won 37% of the vote in 2019, more than the biggest party, the Solomon Islands Democratic Party on 14%.

Prominent opposition party figures include:

- Peter Kenilorea Jr of the United Party who wants the China security pact scrapped, and infrastructure help from Western countries favoured. He is a former United Nations official and the son of Solomon Islands' first prime minister after independence from Britain.

- Matthew Wale of the Solomon Islands Democratic Party, and former prime minister Rick Hou of the Democratic Alliance Party, who have formed the CARE coalition, pledging to fix education and health, and a foreign policy that prioritises Solomon Islands national interests.

- Former Malaita premier Daniel Suidani, who previously banned Chinese companies in the nation's biggest province, and is running for Malaita governor. His new party U4C (Umi For Change) will run candidates in the national election, including former government official Celsus Talifulu.

- There are 20 women running as candidates. Only two women were elected at the previous election.


An election observer report in 2019 noted the traditional role of vote buying, saying "Devil's Night" cash hand outs were likely driven underground by new laws banning it.

Solomon Islands Electoral Commission advertising this month urged voters to "Keep your votes secret and say NO to vote buying and selling".

This is the second election since the 2017 departure of the decade-long Regional Assistance Mission to Solomon Islands (RAMSI), a multinational force of Australian, New Zealand, Papua New Guinea and Fiji police.

RAMSI was formed at the request of Solomon Islands government in 2003 to maintain civil order after inter-tribal violence.

When anti-government riots broke out in the capital Honiara in Nov. 2021, Sogavare asked Australian police to return to restore order. Six months later, Solomon Islands signed the security pact with China.

Chinese police, and the Solomons International Assistance Force (comprised of Australia, New Zealand, Papua New Guinea and Fiji police and military) have a presence in Solomon Islands and operate separately, under the supervision of Royal Solomon Islands Police Force.

Election observer groups from Australia, New Zealand, the Pacific, Japan, Europe and the U.S. will monitor voting and counting, with national and provincial polls held on the same day.

(Reporting by Kirsty Needham; Editing by Raju Gopalakrishnan)