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Kemakeza is New Solomon Islands PM - 2001-12-17

The new prime minister of the Solomon Islands is Allan Kemakeza, who was ousted as deputy prime minister in the last government in a scandal over compensation payments to victims of the country's ethnic war.

When the results of a general election were declared two weeks ago, none of the major parties had the numbers for an overall majority in the new 50-member Parliament. There followed an intense period of lobbying, from which Allan Kemakeza, the leader of the People's Alliance Party, has emerged as the new prime minister. He had the support of 29 members of parliament after the first round of voting. His nearest rival was the man ousted in last year's coup, Bartholomew Ulafa'alu. Armed police guarded the parliament in the capital, Honiara as the votes were cast Monday morning.

Mr. Kemakeza will now form a new government, which will serve a four-year term.

It faces enormous challenges. The country is on the verge of economic breakdown and ethnic tensions simmer. The conflict between militants from the two main islands of Guadalcanal and Malaita has left a legacy of mistrust and fear.

More than 100 people were killed and thousands left homeless in fighting since 1998 between the Isatabu Freedom Movement from Guadalcanal and the Malaita Eagle Force. The violence culminated in a coup in June last year that overthrew the democratically elected government.

A peace accord brokered by Australia just months after the coup also sought a peaceful resolution to the thorny issues of land-ownership and jobs, which were at the heart of the hostilities and had caused so much bloodshed.

In his final address to the nation, the out-going Prime Minister Manasseh Sogavare warned the Solomons cannot afford further ethnic unrest.

It is unclear if Mr. Kemakeza will be a popular choice at the head of a new government. He was dismissed as deputy prime minister two months ago after being accused of awarding himself thousands of dollars in compensation payouts from a program to help victims of the civil war.

Australian media reports from Honiara say there was a less than enthusiastic response from the crowd that had gathered outside the Parliament to hear the name of the new prime minister. Nobody cheered when the governor general made the announcement that the Mr. Kemakeza now had the top job.