The premier of one of Solomon Islands’ most populous provinces and one of the most vocal critics of the country’s relationship with China has been ousted in a vote of no confidence.
The move led to protests in Auki, Malaita province on Tuesday. Police confirmed to the Guardian that they had used teargas to disperse protesters and said one police officer had been injured, but said the situation was now under control.
Malaita provincial premier Daniel Suidani has been one of the most outspoken critics of the country’s relationship with China. He objected to the national government signing a controversial security pact with China last year, as well as the decision to break ties with Taipei in favour of Beijing in 2019.
He faced a vote of no confidence at the provincial assembly on Tuesday. The motion filed in the assembly alleged Suidani had illegally solicited money from a Chinese-owned mining company, inappropriately used government finances to pay the wages of his personal security guards and of financial mismanagement.
The vote passed unanimously after the premier and his executive walked off the floor of the provincial assembly meeting, boycotting the motion.
The national minister for provincial government Rollen Seleso said that Suidani’s government had tried unsuccessfully to object to the legality of the motion of no confidence, but that the high court had ruled in favour of the provincial speaker and declared the vote could go ahead.
“They proceeded with the motion which now led to the defeat of the incumbent Suidani,” said Seleso. “Following the defeat, nominations of the candidates should go on for 48 hours, and the provincial assembly speaker should convene a full assembly meeting to elect the new premier on Friday this week.”
Celcus Talifilu, one of Suidani’s advisors, issued a statement on behalf of the premier on Tuesday night denying the allegations and calling into question the legality of Tuesday’s vote.
“We are taking legal action against the speaker and the motion mover for the legal challenge as we are not satisfied with today’s motion of no confidence. We felt that today’s motion is unfair.”
Tensions between the provincial government in Malaita and the national government based in Honiara have been high in recent years. In November 2021, there were protests in Honiara that led to the deaths of three people.
Many of the protesters came from Malaita, and cited feeling overlooked by the government in Guadalcanal province. At the time of the riots, Suidani said that Sogavare had “elevated the interest of foreigners above those of Solomon Islanders” and should resign.