Solomon Islands leader Sogavare keeps seat, vote count continues

FILE PHOTO: Solomon Islands Prime Minister Manasseh Sogavare in Beijing

By Kirsty Needham

(Reuters) - Solomon Islands Prime Minister Manasseh Sogavare has retained his parliamentary seat, results showed on Saturday, but it will be days before vote counting determines whether his OUR party can form the next government.

Wednesday's national election was the first since Sogavare struck a security pact with China in 2022, drawing the Pacific Islands nation closer to Beijing. The move concerned the U.S. and Australia because of the potential impact on regional security.

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

Full results for the 50-member parliament, expected to be known next week, will indicate whether any party has achieved a majority or whether negotiations to form a coalition are needed to select the prime minister.

Large numbers of independent candidates have won in previous elections, leading to fluid coalitions.

The results of the national and provincial elections held in the Solomon Islands are being announced over several days. Electoral chief Jasper Highwood Anisi said vote counting was slow but the integrity of the process was a priority to maintain public trust, and ballot boxes were under heavy police security.

Sogavare won 49% of the vote in his East Choiseul constituency, beating the United Party's candidate David Qurusu on 42%, official results showed.

Former opposition leader Matthew Wale of the Solomon Islands Democratic Party kept his seat in Aoke in Malaita province, broadcaster SIBC reported on Saturday.

Daniel Suidani, a prominent critic of China who was the premier of Malaita province until he was ejected in a no-confidence vote last year, has been re-elected to the Malaita provincial assembly, officials said.

As provincial premier he had banned Chinese companies from Malaita, the Solomon Islands' most populous province, and accepted U.S. development aid before being ousted last year by lawmakers for his refusal to recognise China.

Suidani said his win showed Malaita voters wanted to see change in government.

"They are trying to rescue the province from bad leadership, corruption," he told Reuters, adding final numbers in the provincial assembly were not yet known.

China sent its top envoy for the South Pacific to Malaita province this month to sign a memorandum of understanding with Malaita's new premier, Martin Fini. Fini has lost his provincial assembly seat, electoral officials said.

(Reporting by Kirsty Needham in Sydney; Editing by William Mallard)