Solomon Islands begins counting national election votes as US and China closely watch outcome

Counting was underway on Thursday in the Solomon Islands after voting ended the previous day, although electoral officials said they were searching for a larger venue in the Pacific Island capital Honiara to tally votes. The parliamentary election is the first since Prime Minister Manasseh Sogavare formed a security agreement with China in 2022 and brought the Pacific Islands nation closer to Beijing. The outcome of the election will be closely watched by the United States, China and Australia for its potential impact on regional security. Electoral chief Jasper Highwood Anisi said in a livestreamed press conference on Thursday that results would start to be announced on Friday, with most results known by Sunday evening or Monday morning. Counting in Honiara had been delayed as electoral officials sought a larger venue with appropriate security for a counting center, he said. There was a heavy police presence outside counting centers nationwide, he added. Counting in Sogavare’s electorate of East Choiseul would start on Friday, national broadcaster SIBC reported. The Royal Solomon Islands Police Force said it had banned victory parades by winning candidates or their supporters because of the risk of unrest. The Solomons has had a volatile history, with anti-government riots in 2021 and earlier inter-tribal violence. Sogavare, running as leader of the Ownership, Unity and Responsibility Party, has said he would seek closer ties with China. Opposition parties have criticized the security pact with China, and say voters are focused on struggling health services, education and roads. The 50 members of the national parliament are elected for a four-year term, and the seat results will indicate if any party has achieved a majority, or negotiations to form a coalition are needed before a prime minister is selected. Police and defense forces from Australia, New Zealand, Papua New Guinea and Fiji are assisting with election security and observer groups from Australia, New Zealand, the Pacific, Japan, Europe and the U.S. are monitoring the election. The Solomon Islands archipelago is home to just 700,000 people but occupies a strategic position 990 miles northeast of Australia.