Solomon Islands Prime Minister Manasseh Sogavare has survived a no-confidence motion in parliament after accusing “agents of Taiwan” of orchestrating the bid to remove him.
The pro-China leader won the support of 32 legislators on Monday, while 15 voted against him.
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The vote came weeks after anti-government riots in the Pacific nation’s capital, Honiara, that left four people dead and dozens of buildings looted and burned down.
The violence broke out after Sogavare refused to speak with protesters who had travelled from the nation’s most populous province of Malaita, which complains of neglect by the central government and is also opposed to Honiara’s decision to switch diplomatic allegiance to China from Taiwan.
Amid fears that the result of Monday’s no-confidence vote could trigger more violence, boats were banned from Honiara harbour, and more than 200 police and soldiers from Australia, Fiji, New Zealand and Papua New Guinea were on alert.
The prime minister, now in his fourth stint in office, told legislators in parliament that he had not done anything wrong and would not submit to “calls to resign by Taiwan’s agents”.
Blaming the Malaita provincial government for the riots, Sogavare said “the call for me to resign and this motion was made against the backdrop of an illegal attempted coup”.
Taiwan has denied involvement in the unrest.
Sogavare said his cabinet made the decision to switch ties because China was an economic powerhouse, adding that it was unlawful for provinces to engage in diplomatic relations with other countries.
China’s embassy in the Solomons said any attempt to damage bilateral ties between China and the Solomon Islands was doomed to fail, adding that China-Solomons Islands ties will overcome all difficulties.
Earlier, opposition leader Matthew Wale told parliament that Sogavare was “in the service of a foreign power” and accused the prime minister of using money from China in a national fund to prop up his political strength before the no-confidence vote.
A Government Gazette notice dated December 2 shows money was withdrawn from the National Development Fund (NDF) in the name of 22 legislators in recent days.
“The Prime Minister is dependent on the NDF money to maintain his political strength. How can he make decisions only in the interests of the Solomon Islands?” said Wale.
The people of the Solomon Islands are angry at inadequate healthcare, prime land being taken by foreigners, and logging companies overriding local interests, Wale said.
The looting and violence that erupted on November 24 must be condemned, he said, but “it pales in comparison to the looting that happens at the top”.
Malaita has a history of disputes with Guadalcanal province, where the national government is based, and it opposed the switch by Sogavare’s government in 2019 to formally recognise China instead of Taiwan.
Its premier, Daniel Suidani, has banned Chinese companies from working in Malaita and has accepted aid from the United States.
About 1,000 people gathered in the provincial capital of Auki to listen to a livestream of the parliament session, a political aide to Suidani told the Reuters news agency.
Suidani is expected to make an announcement on Tuesday outlining a referendum for independence for Malaita, the adviser, Celsus Talifilu, said by telephone.