Solomon Islands election count underway, China critic Suidani regains seat

By Thomson Reuters Apr 18, 2024 | 4:32 PM

By Kirsty Needham

(Reuters) – A prominent Solomon Islands critic of China, the ousted former governor of Malaita province Daniel Suidani, has been reelected, local media reported on Friday, as counting continues in an election being closely watched by China, the U.S. and Australia.

The first results in national and provincial elections held in the Solomon Islands are expected to be announced on Friday, as counting continues over the weekend.

The national 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, in moves that concerned the U.S. and Australia because of the potential impact on regional security.

Suidani, whose new political party U4C also ran candidates in the national election, was reelected to the Malaita provincial assembly, national broadcaster SIBC reported on Friday morning.

As governor he had banned Chinese companies from Malaita, the Solomon Islands’ most populous province, and accepted U.S. development aid before being ousted in a no confidence vote last year.

China sent its top envoy for the South Pacific to Malaita province this month to sign a memorandum of understanding with the new governor.

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

There is a heavy police presence outside counting centres providing security, elections chief Jasper Highwood Anisi said on Thursday.

Police and defence forces from Australia, New Zealand, Papua New Guinea and Fiji are assisting with election security.

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

(Reporting by Kirsty Needham in Sydney; Editing by Jamie Freed)