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Thursday, September 21, 2006

It has been rumoured that Solomons Deputy may resign to go for PM's job

Adapted from the World Today - Monday 18 September, 2006
Reporter: Steve Marshall

ELEANOR HALL: What began as a diplomatic row between Australia and Solomon Islands now appears to be the spark for an internal political crisis that's threatening to bring down another Solomons government.

Solomons Opposition leader Fred Fono says he'll use the next fortnight, while Prime Minister Manasseh Sogavare is overseas, to drum up support for a vote against the leader.

Mr Sogavare, who yesterday criticised Australia's peacekeeping mission in his country, is flying to North America, but he had to detour via Fiji because of Australian sanctions on Solomon Islands ministers.

Joining us now from Honiara is Correspondent Steve Marshall.

Steve, can the Solomon Islands Opposition actually force the resignation of Prime Minister Sogavare?

STEVE MARSHALL: Well, he thinks he can. I'm sitting right outside his house at the moment, having just completed a 10-minute interview with Fred Fono, and he believes, especially after last night's speech to the nation, that he has the numbers, or he can turn the numbers inside the Coalition in his favour - not for him to become Prime Minister, but certainly for a change of leadership.

ELEANOR HALL: So what's the basis of this opposition to Mr Sogavare?

STEVE MARSHALL: The bone of contention here is this commission of inquiry into the April riots. The Solomons Government wants a commission of inquiry, never mind the legal issues about it, it wants to find out what it says are the root causes behind the violence.

The Australian Government believes the commission of inquiry will be used to get two MPs who are now behind bars off the hook for their involvement in the riots. But the Solomons PM said this isn't the case. Although interesting enough today, there's a report that's been leaked on the front page of the Solomons Star, that's the local newspaper in Honiara, claiming that, the journalist has claimed that he has seen a report from the Solomons PM, this is a Cabinet document, stating that the commission of inquiry will be used to get these two MPs off the hook who are now behind bars at the moment, so very interesting indeed.

ELEANOR HALL: What's been the response to that from his political enemies there?

STEVE MARSHALL: Well, look, everyone's still talking about the speech to the nation last night, and in fact it's being called… actually, it's not being seen as a speech to the nation because it was done in English, and of course there is so many people living in the Solomons who don't speak English.

So in fact it's being called an address to the world really, because he really did unleash on Australia and the way Australia is going about its peacekeeping force in the nation, and therefore it wasn't really directed at the Solomons people, and…

ELEANOR HALL: This is the speech criticising the Australian-led peacekeeping mission?

STEVE MARSHALL: Yes, he came out all guns blazing last night. I saw him leave the Solomon Islands Broadcasting Corporation after he had made his address, and he was, he had plenty of bounce in his step, and he really unleashed on the Australian Government in terms of how it's going about its peacekeeping force.

He says it's too heavy-handed in terms of walking around the streets with guns, you know, automatic weapons and guns on their hips. He says it's too heavy-handed, there needs to be more dialogue especially for the future. He says Australia just doesn't understand what's at the heart of the Solomon Islands problems.

ELEANOR HALL: So is that speech and this evidence from the Cabinet document that he may want to use the inquiry to free some of his political allies, are both these things being used by the Opposition to try to unseat him?

STEVE MARSHALL: Yes, and they will. Obviously it's quite fresh the news out in this morning's paper regarding the PM being stated in this document that he wants to use the commission of inquiry to get two MPs off the hook. These are two MPs, by the way, who voted Sogavare into government.

Now, a little birdie has told me that the reason why Mr Sogavare might want to get these two MPs out of jail is that they might implicate the Prime Minister in the riots themselves. It happened in April, so it's very interesting indeed.

ELEANOR HALL: And how bit a slight is it to the Prime Minister that on his trip to North America he can't fly via Australia?

STEVE MARSHALL: Yes, interesting, isn't it, and it's going to be a long trip. But at the end of the day, probably the Australian aid money will fund this trip, you know, the extra distance, because of what Australia puts into resurrecting the Solomon Islands and obviously a travel budget is involved in that.

But, yes, he has to go via Fiji.

I was talking to the Deputy Prime Minister as well who's very upset at the tightening of travel rules by Canberra on Solomon Islands politicians visiting Australia, because he was due to visit his two daughters in Brisbane. However, he received a letter from the Australian Government saying that his visa has been revoked. So it's very upsetting for him indeed.

Also, another bit of information on The World Today, you're first with it, that I hear the Solomon Islands Deputy Prime Minister may well have handed in his resignation. That's just in the last two minutes.

ELEANOR HALL: So a political crisis erupting there. Is the Opposition leader likely to be any more friendly to Australia, and indeed to RAMSI (Regional Assistance Mission to Solomon Islands?

STEVE MARSHALL: Ah, look, I, you know, I put the question to the Opposition leader, he feels, especially on the gun issue, Australian soldiers and Australian Federal Police walking around the Solomons with guns is not the way to go in the long-term but, look, he says Australia is needed.

He said the Solomons needs Australia for its future. But he also says he doesn't want to become prime minister, and I have a feeling that the Deputy Prime Minister, Mr Tausinga, may well end up in the big chair in about two weeks' time, because there is a vote of no confidence pending when Mr Sogavare returns from New York.

ELEANOR HALL: So the Deputy Leader's resignation is indeed an attempt for him to set himself up for the top job?

STEVE MARSHALL: Yes. I spoke to him at the weekend, although it's not official yet. But, look, I do have the inside running on that information, in that it will be tendered some time this afternoon, or at least in the next couple of days.

So, look, you know, while the PM's away, who knows what will go on, but there's going to be a lot of lobbying while he's in New York, and he may get a bit of a shock when he returns back to Honiara.

ELEANOR HALL: Steve Marshall in Honiara, thank you.

Source: The World Today @ ABC

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