Manasseh Sogavare bows out of prime ministerial race in Solomon Islands

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SI prime ministerial candidate Jeremiah Manele
Prime ministerial candidate Jeremiah Manele . . . "He has been groomed for this position." Image: RNZ/Samuel Rillstone

By Koroi Hawkins, RNZ Pacific editor

The first prime ministerial candidate has been announced in Solomon Islands and it is not Manasseh Sogavare.

The man of the hour is Jeremiah Manele, the MP for Hograno/Kia/Havulei constituency in Isabel Province, who served as minister of foreign affairs in the last government.

Manele’s candidacy was announced by caretaker Prime Minister Sogavare in a news conference in Honiara on Monday night.

Sogavare downplayed not putting his hat in the ring this time, saying it was a collective decision.

He said he was “deeply honoured” to be handing over the reins to a highly capable leader.

“Jeremiah Manele is no stranger,” Sogavare said.

“Manele was a career public servant rising up through the ranks of the public service and was once upon a time secretary to the prime minister before assuming elected office.

“He last held the senior position of minister of foreign affairs and external trade in the last government.

“He has been groomed for this position.”

In accepting the nomination, Manele called for unity and said stability was the key to transforming Solomon Islands.

“I am able and willing to carry this awesome responsibility in leading our nation forward,” he said.

“I am well aware of the challenges and I know that at times it can be burdensome and lonely; but I am confident that I am comforted by the sound policies that we have and the solidarity in our coalition.”

If Manele is successfully elected, he will be the country’s first prime minister from Isabel Province.

Explainer – entering the final straight
Nominations for prime minister will close at 4pm today. The election of the prime minister is scheduled to take place at 9.30am local time on Thursday, May 2, at Parliament House.

However, even after prime ministerial nominations close, there is still a high chance of more movements of MPs to and from the established coalitions.

And if history is anything to go by, there could even be a breakaway coalition formed ahead of the prime ministerial election on Thursday.

This is partly enabled by Solomon Islands’ weak political party legislation which does not prescribe any penalties or restrictions for MPs wanting to resign from or join political parties.

This means MPs who want to play both sides for political or personal gain can switch back and forth multiple times with impunity.

But another underlying driver for this behaviour — and the reason prime ministerial elections are such fraught affair in Solomon Islands — is the huge disparity in both income and benefits between MPs who end up in government compared to those who end up in opposition.

There is also one more variable to consider which is that, besides the government and the opposition, the Solomon Islands constitution provides a space for independent MPs who do not want to be affiliated with either side of the house.

It is unclear at this stage what bearing such a grouping could have on the election of the prime minister. However, in 2019 when Sogavare came to power, 15 MPs abstained from voting in the prime ministerial election.

How voting in the prime ministerial election is conducted
According to the constitution, the election of the prime minister will be presided over by the Governor General and conducted by secret ballot.

If at any point a candidate receives an absolute majority of votes they shall be elected prime minister.

Should no candidate receive an absolute majority of votes at the first ballot, a further ballot shall be held with the candidate receiving the least number of votes in the first round being eliminated.

If there are several candidates who were tied for last place in the first round then the Governor General shall decide by lot which one of those candidates shall be eliminated.

This process is repeated until all candidates bar two have been eliminated at which point only one further ballot shall be conducted to decide the election between these two candidates.

At this ballot, the candidate with the most votes shall be elected prime minister.

If they are again tied only one more ballot will be conducted and if the result is the same the Governor General will countermand the election and the election procedure will begin anew.

Analysis – the players
Manele is the prime ministerial candidate for one of two major coalition groupings in Honiara lobbying to form the next government of Solomon Islands.

The make-up of the Coalition for National Unity and Transformation (CNUT) Manele now heads, which claimed to have the support of 28 out of the 50 MPs in Parliament, is pretty much identical to the composition of the former government.

It includes:

  • Our Party, which despite losing half of its former members of parliament at the polls, still emerged as the single largest political party in parliament with 15 MPs. Interestingly, Sogavare, in his remarks to the press, said they now had only 12 MPs, which if true, indicated they have suffered some resignations in the past week.
  • The People’s First Party, which secured three seats in the election, included among its ranks multi-millionare businessman Chachabule Rebi Amoi. The party now claim to have recruited three additional MPs which would bring up their total number of MPs to six.
  • And the Kandere Party, whose sole MP, Jamie Lency Vokia, made a return to parliament this year having stood his wife Ethel Lency Vokia as a proxy in the last parliament, after he lost his North East Guadalcanal seat in 2020 when he was found guilty of bribing voters in an election petition.

Manele’s coalition also has a powerful independent lobby group spearheaded by the West Honiara MP and casino owner Namson Tran, making it quite a formidable opponent.

The other coalition of parties loosely resembles the former opposition group in Parliament, but has yet to settle on its own name, let alone announce its prime ministerial candidate.

However, based on the political party leadership, the three most likely to be nominated are:

  • The former opposition leader Mathew Wale, whose Democratic Party emerged from the election with 11 MPs.
  • Populist MP Peter Kenilorea Jr, the son of Solomon Islands’ first prime minister, whose United Party secured six seats in the election.
  • And former prime minister Rick Hou, whose Democratic Alliance Party is one of two minor parties in this coalition each with a single MP in the current parliament.

The other minor party was the Umi for Change Party, represented by first time MP Daniel Suilea Waneoroa, whose election victory was one of the David and Goliath stories of the 2024 election — given he not only unseated the incumbent (now former) North Malaita MP Senly Filualea, but also staved off the likes of another former MP, Jimmy Lusibaea.

In a statement marking the signing of their coalition agreement over the weekend, the parties called on independent MPs, 11 of whom made it into parliament, to join them and help bring in a new government.

“We appeal to all newly elected independent MPs voted on a mandate for change to join us. Let us take back Solomon Islands,” the statement said.

At the time the statement was released, this yet-to-be-named coalition claimed to have the support of 20 MPs.

This article is republished under a community partnership agreement with RNZ.

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