Political Parties Launch Campaigns for Solomon Islands’ General Elections

United Party Campaign Launch

On February 14th, the United Party (UP) and former opposition leader Matthew Wale announced his intentions to run in the upcoming National General Elections (NGE). Wale will run in the elections with former Prime Minister (PM) Rick Hou under the Coalition for Accountability, Reform, and Empowerment (CARE).

During the campaign launch, Wale accused current PM Manasseh Sogavare of selling out the Solomon Islands to entrenched Chinese and Malaysian businesses and interests.

United Party and former opposition leader Matthew Wale during February 14th campaign launch rally (Photo: Australian Broadcasting Corporation: Chrisnrita Aumanu-Leong)

Wale also highlighted the negative impact they have on the Solomons’ economy, with it taking the country’s natural resources to enrich foreigners. This lopsided relationship ultimately leaves most of the Solomon Islands’ citizens marginalized. He also told the Australian Broadcasting Corporation that he will take a different approach to China than Sogavare if he can build a governing coalition. Wale also said that the country should be advancing and protecting its national interests and not “know-towing, not bowing down like beggars, with no respect.”

He also criticized Sogavare’s approach to the Solomons’ relationship with China, saying that he was “sleazing up to Beijing, trying to kiss their feet.”

Wale also criticized the security agreement the Solomons signed with China in April 2022 during the rally. He said he would publish the entire document if he won the elections because he could not think of a good reason to justify hiding the important document from the public.

UP’s political wing leader, Peter Kenilorea Jr., also held a press conference on February 13th, where he also explained his party’s grievances with the 2022 security agreement. Kenilorea pointed out how the pact caused “unnecessary tension and shifted the focus for the wrong reasons.”

Specifically, he said that agreement caused the country to become involved in the competition between China and the United States. The Solomons could “lessen the tension” surrounding the country by withdrawing from the arrangement. However, he also said that the UP would not exclude China as a development partner but also invite more countries to establish embassies in the capital of Honiara. While Kenilorea mentioned India and Indonesia as potential countries, he said the UP’s policy will also include reestablishing diplomatic ties with Taiwan. The reason why is due to the Solomons need to work together with as many countries as possible while also setting the relationship’s priorities.

PM Sogavare, ministers, party members, and candidates during February 15th Ownership, Unity, Responsibility Party campaign launch

Ownership, Unity, Responsibility Party Campaign Launch

The Ownership, Unity, Responsibility (OUR) party presented its manifesto during a rally on February 15th. The party’s president, Jimson Fiau Tanangada, presented the manifesto during a speech he gave to the rally’s participants. Tanangada said that his party became a “beacon of hope and unity” at a time when division dominates the Solomons political landscape.

He also said that the OUR Party-led Democratic Coalition Government for Advancement (DCGA) coalition delivered more “game changing and transformative” projects and reforms during difficult periods. Tanangada also highlighted the various policies the coalition government successfully implemented during its time in power. These policies range from enabling political stability through strong and stable leadership to infrastructure development through various projects such as hydroelectric dams, roadways, and air and seaport expansion and improvement.

Tanangada also highlighted the foreign policy engagement the DCGA-led government completed, such as implementing its “Friends to All and Enemy to None” policy. He also pointed out how the Solomons’ established relations with China and developed new initiatives with the United States, Saudi Arabia, India, Indonesia, etc.

Regarding legislation the government passed, he pointed out how the DCGA successfully enacted the country’s Border Security and National Security Strategies. The government also passed several key bills, such as the Education Act and constitutional amendments ranging from elections, electricity, and legislation process reforms. Tanangada also said that the government implemented various measures to maneuver the country through the COVID-19 pandemic.

He also highlighted how the party was able to successfully enact the various laws during the 11th Parliament due to the political stability the party achieved. Tanangada ended the manifesto by encouraging “all Solomon Islanders to rise above partisan politics” and support the party to build a worthy future.

UMI for Change Party

While the UP and OUR parties launched their manifestos in the second week of February, the new political party UMI for Change (U4C) party launched its manifesto on January 25th. The party’s president, former Malaita province premier Daniel Suidani, outlined the document during a rally announcing the party’s establishment in the city of Auki.

UMI for Change President and former Malaita Premier Daniel Suidani giving a speech during launch of the party on January 25th

Suidani outlined the U4C’s policies regarding economic growth by implementing various strategies, such as encouraging local business development and introducing fiscal policies to stimulate the economy. He also said that the political party will develop and maintain infrastructure throughout the country to encourage private sector investment and local manufacturing. Suidani said the U4C would review and reform any laws and processes that would streamline any “administrative, bureaucratic, and regulatory impediments to business, exports and private sector development.” He also said they would review the seasonal workers’ schemes with the goal of developing a skilled worker agreement to work in countries such as Australia and New Zealand.

Regarding foreign policy, Suidani made it clear that they establish “diplomatic, bilateral, and multilateral agreements” with various countries. He also said the party would review the One China Principle while reviewing and reforming the current process of establishing diplomatic relations. The goal of the reforms would be to make the process more transparent and subject to consultation and scrutiny with the country’s citizens and parliament.

He will also reform the laws for all nine provinces and Honiara to establish and develop relations with “suitable organizations, cities, or provinces.” Suidani also said that they will review all international economic, political, security, and social assistance agreements that will enhance both national and provincial development goals. He ended the manifesto by highlighting that his party will disclose all agreements and Memorandums of Understanding to the parliamentary committees and the public.

Analysis

The three political parties’ campaign rallies mark the beginning of the election season in the Solomon Islands. The OUR’s and U4C’s manifestos, along with Wale’s and Kenilorea’s comments, show what will be the focus during the elections, specifically the country’s relationship with China and the economy.

For example, the U4C’s manifesto outlining how they will reform how the Solomons establishes foreign relations with other countries is a reference to its relationship with China. The reason why the party put forward the reforms is to increase the amount of transparency surrounding the process of approving agreements with other countries. The lack of transparency was one of the main issues regarding how the DCGA-led government signed the security pact with China in 2022. The security pact was unpopular with a large number of Solomon Islanders when news of the pact’s signing came out.

The reforms to the laws that govern how provinces can establish relations with foreign countries are to give provinces greater autonomy in this regard. The reason why the U4C wants to enact these reforms is due to the government using the current laws to remove Suidani as premier in February 2023 because of his anti-Chinese stances. The U4C’s economic policies are designed to allow the Solomons to develop its domestic manufacturing base and, by extension, its economy to become more self-reliant. Furthermore, the party also emphasized infrastructure development that will make the Solomons a more attractive place to set up operations.

In contrast to the U4C’s manifesto, OUR party’s manifesto showed how its achievements allowed the party to become a “beacon of hope and unity” for the Solomons. The OUR party president emphasized that they could achieve these economic and diplomatic successes through the political stability they brought to the country. The document also mentioned how the establishment of relations with China is a win under its “Friends to All and Enemy to None” policy. However, the manifesto did not include any new policies the party will attempt to enact if it wins a second term. Furthermore, the document also did not mention if they would reform any legislative processes during their second term.

Kenilorea’s and Wale’s comments indicate that the UP will likely emphasize how the various foreign policy and trade agreements only hurt the Solomon Islands. The reason why the UP chose this strategy is due to how Sogavare’s policies only allowed Chinese interests to create an unequal economic relationship in the country.

For example, Wale pointed out how Chinese businesses steal the Solomons’ natural resources while Sogavare increases relations with them, especially China. Kenilorea’s comments criticizing the security pact involve how the Solomons became entangled in the competition between China and the United States. This entanglement only served for the government and politicians to increase their focus on that at the expense of more critical issues. Wale also echoed these sentiments with his comments about the pact but said he would push to have the agreement published for full transparency.

Regarding China’s response to the U4C’s manifesto and the comments, the country will likely increase its influence operations in the country in the eight weeks before the elections. These operations would consist of the country providing various kinds of aid to the OUR party, such as money, so the party can bribe various officials and people to attend rallies. Another form of aid would come in the form of paying for local businessmen, influencers, and reporters to push pro-OUR party messages.

The United Front Work Department (UFWD) and Chinese intelligence agencies could easily conduct the operations out of China’s embassy in Honiara or the small Chinese community. Furthermore, the small Chinese community would allow either the UFWD or intelligence agencies to operate more effectively in the city of Honaira. China could also assist by increasing the number of economic or infrastructure deals that the countries sign between now and the elections to show that the OUR’s policies work.

Joaquin Camarena
Joaquin Camarena
Joaquin the panda began Sino Talk in 2022 primarily to give an objective, unbiased view on China related topics as well as other issues related to the Indo-Pacific region. He spent several years studying and traveling throughout China and many countries in the Indo-Pacific region. In another life, the panda was also a U.S. Marine intelligence analyst who enjoyed bamboo MREs and drinking bourbon and soju. Indo-Pacific Division Desk Chief for Atlas News.

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