Photo: Nick Hadfield
A growing protest in the Solomon Islands capital Honiara which began as a sit-in at the prime minister’s office has now reached the nearby Solomon Islands police headquarters.
It is the latest in a series of violent demonstrations that have emerged from what’s been described as the opposition’s frustration at the government’s inability to make any progress on its legislative agenda.
The prime minister, Manasseh Sogavare, is prevented from carrying out official duties because of protests outside his office, which have left him unable to stay in Honiara.
On Saturday, the prime minister stayed in Honiara’s USF convention centre for five days before exiting on Sunday for a retreat in Queensland.
The Australian High Commission and the United Nations have since offered advice to the Solomon Islands High Commissioner on how to maintain public order.
The Solomon Islands Independent daily report that police commissioner Gordon Darcy Lilo has declared a state of emergency in Honiara, which would go into effect from Monday.
The paper says Mr Lilo declared the state of emergency because he believes the protest is becoming violent and destructive.
The Guardian reports that several thousand people are at the core of the protest.
It says the rally began as a sit-in on Thursday outside Honiara’s village administrative office but its purpose quickly changed.
The Guardian reports the crowd now numbers about a thousand and is keen to get closer to the prime minister’s office.
It says the protest plan has been facilitated by Solomon Islands National Teachers Association, and supported by the Police Commission, which has publicly criticised the prime minister.
Opposition Leader Fred Fono has also accused Mr Sogavare of flouting a restraint order.
He told the Guardian that Mr Sogavare is “calling the shots” by staying in Australia but never informing the security forces.
The newspaper says some street vendors are also demonstrating on behalf of their colleagues, but they have been urged to vacate the area around the prime minister’s office.
An international expert says there has been lack of government unity and power plays by political parties.
Professor Albert Vandenberg, from the University of Texas at Austin, who is in Honiara as a Consultant for the Australian government, says it has been clear that this is not some unarmed citizen’s protest.
He says Mr Sogavare cannot stay outside because he is not allowed to leave, and so he is keeping the protesters in the hope he will be permitted to travel and allow the protests to disperse.
Professor Vandenberg says Mr Sogavare was expected to lead the major developments to boost Pacific Island Forum leaders’ confidence in the Pacific region.
But he says that hasn’t happened, and now it’s just a matter of waiting for the government to find a way forward.
But he believes the government isn’t particularly interested in what its own people think.
Professor Vandenberg says Mr Sogavare has never really been in charge and there is a sense of back-slapping between him and other senior politicians.
“But, at the same time, there’s a sense that nobody has really been in charge and there’s been lack of policy consensus,” he says.