Counting underway in Solomon Islands national election watched by US, China

By Thomson Reuters Apr 18, 2024 | 2:03 AM

By Kirsty Needham

(Reuters) – Counting was underway on Thursday in the Solomon Islands after a national election a day earlier, although electoral officials said they were searching for a larger venue in the Pacific Island capital Honiara to count votes.

The parliamentary election is the first since Prime Minister Manasseh Sogavare struck a security pact with China in 2022 and drew the Pacific Islands nation closer to Beijing.

The election outcome will be closely watched by the United States, China and Australia for its potential impact on regional security.

Electoral chief Jasper Highwood Anisi said in a livestreamed press conference on Thursday that results would start to be announced on Friday, with most results known by Sunday evening or Monday morning.

Counting in Honiara had been delayed as electoral officials sought a larger venue with appropriate security for a counting centre, he said.

There was a heavy police presence outside counting centres nationwide, he added.

Counting in Sogavare’s electorate of East Choiseul would start on Friday, national broadcaster SIBC reported.

The Royal Solomon Islands Police Force said it had banned victory parades by winning candidates or their supporters because of the risk of unrest.

The Solomons has had a volatile history, with anti-government riots in 2021 and earlier inter-tribal violence.

Sogavare, running as leader of the Ownership, Unity and Responsibility Party, has said he would seek closer ties to China. Opposition parties have criticised the security pact with China, and say voters are focused on struggling health services, education and roads.

The 50 members of the national parliament are elected for a four-year term, and the seat results will indicate if any party has achieved a majority, or negotiations to form a coalition are needed before a prime minister is selected.

Police and defence forces from Australia, New Zealand, Papua New Guinea and Fiji are assisting with election security and observer groups from Australia, New Zealand, the Pacific, Japan, Europe and the U.S. are monitoring the election.

The Solomon Islands archipelago is home to just 700,000 people but occupies a strategic position 1,600 km (990 miles) northeast of Australia.

(Reporting by Kirsty Needham in Sydney; Editing by Michael Perry)