Seventeen days after a series of anti-government rallies in the Solomon Islands, the security forces were still at large on Thursday, following a government-approved curfew and the imposition of more sanctions against political and economic activists and “non-government groups.”
The 575,000-population nation has been at the center of a growing political crisis after Deputy Prime Minister Manasseh Sogavare resigned in August and turned to the U.S. and Australia for help in calling off a feared vote of no confidence against Prime Minister Rick Houenipwela.
In a televised address to the nation on Thursday, Sogavare said he had officially turned the government over to Houenipwela after a government meeting. Despite a ban on protests, however, protesters took to the streets again on Thursday to maintain their demands that Houenipwela resign and hand over his post to Sogavare.
Though law and order has not yet been completely restored in the capital of Honiara, there were only isolated protests and several hundred did not attempt to enter the parliament building. The violence that in recent weeks had seen officers wounded and protesters’ houses set on fire has subsided, with the military having abandoned riot gear and making more of an effort to seek out troublemakers by identifying them on television.
Sogavare and his supporters are demanding that Prime Minister Rick Houenipwela quit immediately and reform government business to include wider participation from outside the ruling party. Houenipwela has repeatedly said that he will not resign, let alone be pushed out of office. This week, Sogavare said that the government would only save the nation by removing the governor general and restoring power to the president.
This is the fifth government to suffer under the glare of unrest in the country in as many years. Amid the political confusion, a hurricane in late September disrupted production at the Patek Philippe factory in the village of Jolo, which employed some 50,000 people. Now, the airport, schools and private hospitals are closed. An official from the World Bank visited the country last week to urge the government to improve some facilities but did not comment on the political unrest.
Many people blame Sogavare for the state of the country’s economy. The deputy prime minister has made the region famous for its natural beauty, scenic scenery and high living standards. But he has been at the heart of political controversies and the wealth of the country’s elite, and his policies often alienated his coalition partner, the opposition’s Matthew Wale.
With the backing of Wale, who is the leader of the largest opposition party, Sogavare promised to increase employment and introduce a cash payment to the poorest citizens before resigning, allowing an election to be held six months early. This compromise allowed the government to avoid an election this year, but removed Wale from his position as prime minister and removed him from his regional position as governor general.
Sogavare later released the donor money, which he reportedly misappropriated before returning the money to the international community.
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