The Pacific election in the Solomon Islands is under close scrutiny from both China and Western nations.

Political candidates resort to offering bribes, ranging from cash to essentials like sacks of rice and Chinese-made solar panels, in a last-minute bid to secure votes. Despite efforts to strengthen electoral laws, vote-buying remains entrenched in the Pacific nation’s elections. However, the intense scrutiny from some of the world’s major powers on Wednesday’s vote isn’t solely due to this issue. This remote island nation holds significant importance in the power struggle between China and the US, along with its ally Australia, as they vie for influence in the region.

Wednesday’s election, postponed from last year, marks the first opportunity for citizens to cast their votes since the Solomon Islands shifted its allegiance from the West to Beijing. Consequently, the upcoming vote holds significance as “a referendum” on the leadership of incumbent Manasseh Sogavare and his alignment with China, according to researcher Edward Cavanough, who extensively traveled across the nation for his book ‘Divided Isles,’ chronicling its transition towards Beijing. Cavanough notes, “The PM has been very adept at leaning into the [geopolitical competition] and playing each of these major and regional powers off each other to gain incredible concessions.” Situated approximately 1,600km (900 miles) north of Australia, the Solomon Islands grapples with poverty resulting from decades of tribal conflict.

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