Solomon Islands lawmakers to vote Thursday for new PM as China deals eyed

FILE PHOTO: NZDF Joint Task Force assist in delivering ballot boxes to remote areas of the Solomon Islands

By Kirsty Needham

(Reuters) - Solomon Islands lawmakers will select a new prime minister in a secret ballot on Thursday, choosing between foreign minister Jeremiah Manele and opposition leader Matthew Wale, after a national election failed to deliver a majority to any political party.

The election is being closely watched by China, the U.S. and neighbouring Australia because of the potential impact on regional security, after incumbent Prime Minister Manasseh Sogavare struck a security pact with China in 2022.

Sogavare, who built close ties with Beijing during five years in power, is not seeking re-election to the top political office. His party claims it has enough support from independent candidates to form a government led by Manele.

Wale, in a 20-seat coalition of four opposition parties, said on Wednesday that lobbying of politicians ahead of the vote was dominated by "people asking for money and positions".

"The lobbying going on at the moment is not about policy," he said at a Solomon Islands National University event.

"It's not about the future of this country. We are trying to select the leadership, to build numbers for it, by people asking for money and positions. What's in it for themselves?”

Manele declined to attend the event, which had been billed by the university as a leaders debate, and Wale criticised the government for being "scared of their own people".

Lawmakers gathered in the capital Honiara this week to decide which political camp to support, ahead of the vote in parliament on Thursday at 9:30 a.m.

Manele's OUR party, which has pledged to build more infrastructure, won 15 seats, and gained four seats under a renewed coalition with two micro parties. It needs support from seven independents to reach 26 seats for a majority in the 50-seat parliament.

Wale said the government had failed to create jobs and the economy was dominated by logging and mining companies which shipped resources to China, while health clinics were unable to obtain medications such as paracetamol.

(Reporting by Kirsty Needham; Editing by Kim Coghill)