Here’s what’s behind the unrest in the Solomon Islands, aka the 9th largest island chain in the world:
What’s going on? The turmoil in Honiara, the Solomon Islands’ capital, occurred the day after the Papua New Guinea province of Bougainville declared its independence from Australia. It began with the secession of the former Netherlands South West Bougainville Province (which has high levels of poverty, dysfunctional education and malnutrition rates) on Friday. Bougainville Province is a hotbed of anti-Australian sentiment for its relationship with the Australian nation — including big exports of nickel mining and coal seam gas. In response, a large number of people there and on the six other provinces who have been cultivating the coca plant for centuries (in order to make its intoxicating leaf) are expected to vote in favor of independence this week.
What was the origin of the election? One of the reasons for the loss of the Netherlands South West Bougainville Province was the failure of a bilateral trade treaty in 2007. The island was also virtually cut off from the rest of the country by the devastating drought of 2007. A cabinet member from the province recently announced that this week’s independence vote would be part of its retaliation for the failure of government leaders in Canberra to help combat the drought, and to protest the plan to divert 80 percent of the country’s export revenues to the Indonesian province of Papua.
Why is the unrest a cause for concern? On Thursday, the resignation of Prime Minister Manasseh Sogavare came amid protests, with opposition protesters storming Parliament to address concerns over the country’s budget. At least three policemen and one worker with a Japanese investment group were reportedly killed in Thursday’s violence. One protestor called for Australia and New Zealand to intervene in the country.
The ruling-party’s intention to use the protest as an excuse to rid the government of its parliamentary majority raises concerns about the rule of law in the country. Although Australia and New Zealand often intervene in trouble spots around the world for humanitarian purposes, it’s unclear if they would, say, send troops, given their sizeable troop numbers in Australia and New Zealand, respectively.
What’s next? A spokesman for the New Zealand prime minister, Jacinda Ardern, told reporters on Thursday that the prime minister did not believe the cabinet would overrule the cabinet, though the spat was “very concerning.” Key political and military leaders are thought to be fearful that a weak government would not be able to secure vital defense and foreign policy assistance from allies. All 13 lawmakers are thought to be opposed to the move, which they warn could slow down progress on crucial development projects.