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Friday, May 05, 2006

Time will tell if Sogavare can live down the past

By: Craig Skehan (Honiara)

Colleagues of the newly installed Solomon Islands Prime Minister, Manasseh Sogavare, say that in recent years he has become deeply, even mystically, religious.

This has given rise to a widely circulating rumour that he is able to talk to the dead.

On the steps of parliament yesterday, Mr Sogavare invoked the power of Christianity several times in his speech. "Christians all over the Solomon Islands should pray," he said. "We don't know how to do anything without the guidance of God."

While supporters point to his piousness, critics this week complained about his past links to ungodly men who helped make him prime minister in a disputed parliamentary vote following an armed coup in 2000.

With his neatly-trimmed greying moustache, and bearing attributable to the self-discipline reflected in his martial arts expertise, Mr Sogavare was a distinguished figure.

Australian police in riot gear patrolled the parliament building yesterday as sharp shooters on the roof and a surveillance helicopter maintained the peace.

Among the crowd of several hundred outside were supporters of MP Charles Dausabea, who represents many squatter settlements on the outskirts of the capital, Honiara, home to various gangs.

Dausabea is one of two MPs charged with inciting riots on April 18 when the previous opposition candidate for the prime ministership lost a post-election parliamentary vote.

Flashback to 2000, and after a public service career that included being permanent secretary for finance, Mr Sogavare was elected prime minister after several MPs were kept away from parliament by a threat to shoot down their aircraft.

At the time, Dausabea - an ethnic Malaitan militiaman during three years of bloodshed - was Mr Sogavare's numbers man. During Mr Sogavare's leadership there was a raft of abuses including open extortion of government funds by militants.

Mr Sogavare blames the abuses on the rampant lawlessness of the time, but others say he was tarnished by his ascendancy in the shadow of the coup and his inability to stop the rot. Defenders say he is a highly intelligent man capable of living down the past. Time will tell.

News Source: Sydney Morning Herald (

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