Embattled Solomon Islands Prime Minister Manasseh Sogavare yesterday survived a no-confidence vote, while accusing “Taiwan’s agents” of orchestrating political violence that plunged the Pacific island nation into crisis.
The pro-Beijing leader comfortably saw off an opposition attempt to oust him, winning 32 votes to 15 after a fractious and hot-tempered day-long debate.
The febrile scenes in parliament — in which lawmakers traded claims of corruption, coups and shadowy foreign support — echoed anger on the streets that prompted the arrival of hundreds of international peacekeepers.
Three days of rioting late last month left the Chinatown area of the capital, Honiara, in ruins and claimed at least three lives, with dozens of buildings destroyed.
Ahead of yesterday’s vote, armed troops and police from Australia, Fiji, Papua New Guinea and New Zealand helped operate checkpoints across rain-soaked downtown Honiara to forestall more unrest.
They used shipping containers to seal off areas of the rubble-strewn capital, closed the port to ferries from neighboring islands and enforced a city-wide liquor ban. Authorities also warned people against posting inflammatory statements on social media. The prospect of further violence prompted the US consulate in Honiara to restrict operations.
The crisis erupted late last month when protests about Sogavare’s policies turned violent, fueled by poverty, unemployment and inter-island rivalries in the nation of 800,000.
Sogavare has refused protesters demands to step down, telling parliament yesterday that leaving office under such circumstances would be surrendering “to the dictates of hooligans and lawlessness.”
“We cannot entertain violence being used to tear down a democratically elected government,” he said.
Large numbers of people on Sunday were seen leaving the capital for the provinces on chartered ferries ahead of the no-confidence vote, expecting further trouble.
Many of Sogavare’s detractors come from Malaita. Residents there believe the nation’s most populous island does not get a fair share of resource revenue and is neglected by the central government.
An underlying complaint against Sogavare is his 2019 decision to switch Honiara’s diplomatic allegiance to China from Taiwan, which had close ties with Malaita.
Sogavare said the opposition had conspired with Taiwan to incite unrest over the 2019 switch in an “attempted coup,” although he offered no solid evidence.
“If I am to be removed, it must be by the legal process, by members of parliament, not by calls to resign from Taiwan’s agents,” the 66-year-old said during an often furious two-hour parliamentary address.
At one point the veteran leader rose to his feet and slammed his chair up and down while screaming at opposition leader Matthew Wale, who brought the motion.
Wale accused Sogavare of using Chinese funds to prop up his government, saying “foreign cronies” were being allowed to strip the nation’s natural assets. The opposition leader condemned last month’s rioting, but added “it pales in comparison to the looting happening at the top at the expense of ordinary Solomon Islanders.”
Wale claimed that Beijing and Sogavare were funneling payments to secure support ahead of the no-confidence vote.
The Solomon Islands central bank has put the damage caused by the riots at US$67 million, saying 63 buildings in the capital were burned and looted.
It said the unrest would cost about 1,000 jobs and stifle economic growth, warning the nation was experiencing “development in reverse.”
Regarding the Solomon Islands Prime Minister Manasseh Sogavare’s allegation in the no-confidence vote debate on Monday that the recent turmoil in the capital of the Solomon Islands was instigated by Taiwan’s “agents”, Ministry of Foreign Affair yesterday refuted the false accusations and condemned Sogavare’s irresponsible words and deeds.
Ministry of Foreign Affairs spokesperson Joanne Ou expressed regret and condemned Sogavare’s irresponsible words and deeds for the mass dissatisfaction caused by Sogavare’s inadequate governance, saying that Sogavare has wrongfully blamed the Taiwan government and the democrats who are friendly to Taiwan.
The Ministry of Foreign Affairs reiterated its expectation that the people of the Solomon Islands will continue to express their opinions and support for freedom and democracy in a peaceful and rational manner.
Taiwan urges the Solomon Islands’ central government to listen to its people instead of trying to rule the Pacific nation by copying the authoritarian rule of the Chinese government, Ou added.
Additional reporting by CNA
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