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Solomon Islands PM backs China’s political system, questions democracy values

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Solomon Islands Prime Minister Manasseh Sogavare has praised China’s political system and suggested that democracy leads to moral decay and gay marriage, in a fiery pre-election speech in the province of Malaita.

Mr Sogavare is currently the favourite to win the April 17 Solomon Islands national election, although the shifting nature of politics in the Pacific island make predictions difficult.

And in a campaign rally in the regional capital Auki – which was live streamed on Facebook – Mr Sogavare again lavished praise on the Chinese government, saying his government’s decision to switch diplomatic recognition to Beijing “put Solomon Islands on the map.”

Speaking on the Chinese government, he said China was no longer a communist nation and had come through “70 years of reform”.

Mr Sogavare is tipped to win the upcoming Solomon Islands election.(Reuters: Eduardo Munoz)

Instead, he claimed they had adopted a “socialist system of government” that was “Chinese style”.

“The values they [China’s government] uphold, once you hear about these values, you’ll be truly shocked,” he said in the speech.

“You don’t see beggars in China asking for money … [you] see that in every major city in the United States [and] it’s supposed to be the number one economy in the world.

“The values associated with democracy, for example, you are free to do whatever you want. Men can marry men, women can marry women — [those] are the values associated with the values of democracy.

“You have to ask yourself, what values are you comfortable with as a Christian country?”

Solomon Islands is a deeply religious nation, with an estimated 92 per cent of the population identifying as Christian, and homosexuality is illegal.

The speech will feed into long-standing anxieties in Canberra about the risk that Mr Sogavare might take a more authoritarian turn if he manages to hold on to power at next month’s election.

One federal government source contacted by ABC said while Mr Sogavare’s latest comments praising China were “unsurprising”, Australian officials would be closely monitoring the political trajectory of Solomon Islands during and after the election.

Tightening of ties with China

Mr Sogavare controversially switched the country’s allegiances from Taiwan to China in 2019, known as “The Switch”, triggering a wave of events during his latest tenure as prime minister, his fourth since 1999.

Most notably, Mr Sogavare survived significant domestic unrest during riots in November 2021 and later signed a secretive security deal with China — a move Australia feared could lead to the establishment of a Chinese security base in the country.

Mr Sogavare has strenuously denied this.

His tenure as prime minister has been defined by the “The Switch”, and in November he rode a wave of national pride when the country hosted the biggest event in its history: the 2023 Pacific Games.

A $120 million stadium was built and funded by China, and Mr Sogavare was praised for his vision in bringing the event to the country.

Solomon Islands votes

General elections will be held in the Solomon Islands on April 17.(Supplied: Tony Bransby)

In the speech in the provincial capital in Auki on Friday, Mr Sogavare pointed to the development of the nation during the past five years to drum up support for his party, the OUR Party.

Auki is the provincial capital of Solomon Islands’ most populous island, Malaita, which previously had an anti-China leader before he was ousted in controversial circumstances.

Mr Sogavare also spoke about how China had helped the country in ways never seen before.

“For the past 45 years we have been struggling to make headway in development under [the previous] arrangement [with Taiwan],” he said.

“Our party’s superior understanding of the new political reality has allowed me to make astute foreign policy decisions. Knowing what will come, our party will not back away from making those decisions.”

Campaigns ramp up as election nears

Political watchers say the April election will be the most important in the country’s history.

Mr Sogavare, an astute political negotiator, is tipped to poll strongly and be in prime position when the complex negotiation phase to build a governing coalition begins after April 17.

Solomon Islands academic and political expert Dr David Gegeo told ABC that Mr Sogavare was in prime position because of the “following that he commands”.

“And that puts him up there,” he said.

“But I think if people vote according to their values, I don’t think he’ll come back,” Mr Gegeo said.

He said although sourcing investment for the Pacific Games has been one of the highlights of the Sogavare government, he believed the “real issues” affecting the country remain unaddressed.

“I am absolutely a humanitarian [and] I’d rather see that Solomon Islanders’ human basic needs are met,” he said.

“We need to start from small things: feed our people, so people are happy and have jobs.”

Opposition wants to dump pact with China

Seen as a major rival to Mr Sogavare, Peter Kenilorea Jr, leader of the United Party, launched his campaign in the capital Honiara earlier this month.

The son of the nation’s first prime minister, the lawyer and former high-ranking official at the United Nations has been in opposition since 2019.

Peter Kenilorea standing in front of a sign.

Solomon Islands MP Peter Kenilorea Junior is the son of the nation’s first prime minister.(ABC News: Luke Bowden)

Mr Kenilorea said if elected as prime minister he would push to dump the security pact with China and has raised the prospect of once again recognising Taiwan while maintaining ties with China – something Beijing would be very unlikely to accept.

“We do not believe that our development partners will be the saviour of Solomon Islands, no,” he told the ABC.

“The burden to develop our beloved Solomon Islands does not rest on the shoulders of any of our development partners, no way, [it] rests squarely on the shoulders of the government and people of Solomon Islands themselves.”

In a country where 70 per cent are aged under 35, Mr Kenilorea Jnr said his campaign would be focused on health, education and youth issues.

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