Crikey reporter Sophie Black writes:

As the smoke settles over Honiara’s Chinatown, it looks like the riots over the Solomon Islands’ new Prime Minister, Snyder Rini, could be about “sweetheart deals between Chinese business interests and senior Solomon Islands politicians,” Dr Michael Morgan of Australian National University has told Crikey.

Morgan, who is Acting Director of the Centre for Democratic Institutions at the ANU, is currently working in conjunction with the Solomon Islands parliament on an induction program for new members of parliament to assist the fledgling democracy, but the riots have put the project on hold for several weeks. The Parliament building itself has sustained significant damage.

Mr Rini was deputy prime minister under the unpopular outgoing leader, Allan Kemakeza. Protesters have claimed his election (which was conducted by a secret vote by 50 members of the new parliament) was rigged, following a big swing against the governmentat the general election on 5 April, in which more than half the country’s MPs lost their seats.

“There’s a perception that the old guard have won out with their money…and that the deal has been done behind closed doors,” says Morgan.

“There are still many tensions in society which haven’t been dealt with,” says Morgan. “And it’s a concern that the local Chinese community are being targeted…The wealth of the Chinese community is quite conspicuous” in contrast with the rest of the largely poor population. “They’re quite identifiable as an ethnic group and they’re quite wealthy in local terms…and Snyder Rini seemed to be backed with money from Chinese business interests.”

As for the rioters, “it doesn’t appear to be any one group, it looks opportunistic at this stage…and it might dissipate,” says Morgan. “There are democratic institutions in place in the Solomon Islands but they are still coming to terms with a post conflict environment,” says Morgan. “There are calls for Snyder Rini to resign and he’s refusing at this stage. If that continues to be the case the looting and the rioting could get worse rather than better,” says Morgan.

So, how to stamp out the perception of corruption amongst Solomon Islands politicians? “Politicians have to simply do their job and use the existing institutions to encourage financial probity,” says Morgan. “People want politicians to make decisions in the public interest.”

Peter Fray

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