Members of parliament walked out to protest the election of a new Prime Minister in the Solomon Islands yesterday and afterwards, riots erupted in the capital, Honiara.
Two years ago, amid fireworks and parades, the 14-year-long mission to stabilize the Solomon Islands concluded and the last members of the Australian-led force that restored order after years of ethnic violence withdrew. The first election since was cast as a crucial next step.
Earlier this month, voters chose 50 members of parliament and this week, they gathered to choose a prime minister. The candidates were Manassah Sogavare, who served as prime Minister three times before, and 50-year-old Mathew Wale, making his first run for the top job.
Before the vote, Wale’s supporters argued that Sogavare was ineligible to stand on a technicality. They won a court order to postpone the vote, but that was overruled by Governor General Sir Frank Kabui, and Wale and fourteen of his supporters walked out in protest. The election went ahead anyway, with Sogavare winning 34 votes.
The Solomon Islands Broadcasting Corporation reported that rioters then trashed the Pacific Casino Hotel, which was the headquarters of Sogavare’s Coalition. A smaller group marched on the parliament building, and violence was also reported in Chinatown. Police fired tear gas and made hundreds of arrests. In a video posted to Facebook, Police Commissioner Mathew Varley directed his officers to take swift and stern action and appealed for people to accept the outcome of the election.
In the forty years since independence, just two prime ministers have completed a full four year term in the Solomon Islands.