SYDNEY - Solomon Islanders are heading to the polls Wednesday surrounded by tight security amid fears of electoral interference. The Melanesian archipelago was part of an ‘arc of insecurity’ around northeastern Australia following ethnic violence, rampant crime and failing government in the early 2000s.
In 2003, Australia led a multinational peacekeeping effort that restored democracy to the Solomon Islands. The mission officially ended in 2017, and Australia has sent troops to monitor Wednesday’s poll.
In a land of rugged mountains and active volcanoes, the Solomon Islands election is a huge logistical challenge. Australian military helicopters have delivered ballot papers to remote parts of the South Pacific archipelago.
There are concerns over alleged vote buying on so-called Devil’s Night that falls the day before the election. Anti-corruption group Transparency Solomon Islands said that vote buying had “now become a common aspect of elections” in the Solomon Islands.
Solomon Islands’ police commissioner Matthew Varley is urging voters to respect democracy.
“People talk about Devil’s Night. My question is 'how much is your vote worth, how much is your voice worth?’ Because this is what a person's vote is — it is their right to choose the leaders of this nation, and if we are going to sell our vote for $200 or a bag of rice then I think we can do better than that,” he said.
International diplomacy is also a feature of the election. The Solomon Islands is Taiwan’s biggest ally in the South Pacific, but the caretaker Prime Minister, Rick Hou, has promised to review diplomatic ties with Taipei if re-elected, while downplaying fears it would mean a switch to China.
There is, however, speculation that the Solomon Islands could affirm its diplomatic allegiance to China, which is a key trading partner, although such a move is denied by the archipelago’s leading political parties.
Fifteen parties are contesting the election. More than 330 candidates are competing for 50 seats in parliament.
National issues, such as health care and infrastructure, will dominate the poll. This voter is supporting her local lawmaker.
“I mean in our constituency he has helped. For example, lots of old people,people have engines, he has helped build main roads, trucks. He is the one who has helped people,” she said.
The Solomon Islands is an archipelago in the South Pacific Ocean that lies to the north-east of Australia.