After Elections, the U.S. Has a Window of Opportunity in the Solomon Islands

After Elections, the U.S. Has a Window of Opportunity in the Solomon Islands
Solomon Islands then-Foreign Minister Jeremiah Manele and Chinese Foreign Minister Wang Yi stand during the playing of the Solomon Islands’ national anthem at a ceremony to mark the establishment of diplomatic relations between the two countries, in Beijing, China, Sept. 21, 2019 (AP photo by Mark Schiefelbein).

Last month’s general election in the Solomon Islands, a remote southwest Pacific Island nation caught up in a geopolitical contest for influence between Western powers and China, defied predictions and delivered a new government and leader. While not representing a complete break with the past, the new administration offers the U.S. and its allies a fresh chance to boost bilateral ties with an important partner in the Pacific.

When polling began on April 17, then-Prime Minister Manasseh Sogavare, who announced an extensive security pact with China two years ago, was expected to win a landslide victory. But Sogavare’s Ownership, Unity and Responsibility, or OUR, party retained less than half of its parliamentary seats after the votes were counted. And in a surprise move, Sogavare, a strongman figure in the Solomon Islands’ national politics, dropped out of the post-election leadership contest. Jeremiah Manele, who served as foreign minister in Sogavare’s government, was then elected prime minister by parliament on May 2.

The peaceful polling period saw 334 candidates compete for 50 parliamentary constituencies. It was ultimately a contest between opposition candidates and Sogavare, with his OUR party preaching, among other things, his belief in the socialist virtues of China and warning against the “moral decay” of Western democracies. The party’s election manifesto also declared its intention to “strengthen the relationship with China through a ‘look north’ foreign policy, while nurturing ties with other traditional partners, such as Australia.”

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