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Colours nailed to the mast in Solomons street parades

Luke Costin -

Vuvuzelas, truck horns and chants have rung out across the Solomon Islands as election candidates prove their bona fides in colourful, fervent street parades.

The Pacific archipelago nation northeast of Australia goes to the polls on Wednesday, with all campaigning ordered to cease before Tuesday.

It brought thousands onto the streets of the national capital, Honiara, on Monday as political camps try to carry momentum into polling day.

Locals said the parades were bigger than previous years as the country emerges from a lengthy pandemic-induced recession, battles with poor infrastructure development and wrestles with new diplomatic ties with China.

Caria Havea piled into a truck filled with supporters for West Honiara MP Namson Tran.

With her daughter on her lap and a sleeping baby beside her, Ms Havea told AAP it was important for candidates to show they had the support needed to win.

"People take note - the one they are going to stand with might lose and Namson is going to win, so lets go for him," she said.

Former prime minister Gordon Darcy Lilo also enjoys strong support as the perennial candidate tries his hand at winning the seat of Central Honiara.

He previously represented Gizo, the capital of Western Province, but lost the past three votes there.

Kenson Tim, whose business is in two of the nation's most important cash crops - copra and cocoa - said his business and the wider economy were better when Mr Lilo ran things in 2011 and 2014.

Coalition governments are common in the Solomon Islands and Mr Tim hopes his distant relative can be in the halls of power again.

"You can see all the prices in the shops are going up but our gains in employment pay are not going up as much," he said.

"If he can play a part in the government then the economy of this country can be right."

Rallies have been held across the nation in recent days as tens of thousands of voters return to their home villages to have their say.

Prime Minister Manasseh Sogavare, whose cosying up to China and centralising of power has characterised the past term, is attempting to buck history and remain leader of the government.

While races for individual seats heavily favour incumbents, changing allegiances in parliament often result in short stints in the top office.

Mr Sogavare's party platform includes a "look north" foreign policy and a plan for economic growth driven by tapping into China's Belt and Road Initiative and other foreign development programs.

His decision to switch diplomatic ties from Taiwan to China and sign a security pact with Beijing sparked riots in recent years and criticism that voters had not been consulted.

US allies including Australia have been wary about China's interest in the Solomons, which is strategically located between Papua New Guinea, Australia and the South Pacific nations.

The main opposition, meanwhile, has campaigned on improving the nation's weak health system and employment opportunities and providing free education.

International allies have also been keenly underlining their support of the archipelago nation in recent days.

Radio ads spruik the benefits of Australian social development projects and labour mobility schemes, while the Chinese embassy has used Facebook to stress its diplomatic relationship is not based on "give and take".

"There are no hidden agenda (sic) to take lands or exploit resources or set debt traps for local communities, especially in Malaita, as some vicious lies and rumours about China claimed," ambassador Cai Weiming said, referencing the province most hostile to Chinese influence.

More than a fifth of the Solomons' $2.8 billion economy comes from foreign aid, including $A170 million a year from Australia and from expats sending money home.

This article was made possible through the Melbourne Press Club's Michael Gordon Journalism Fellowship Program.

Luke Costin - AAP


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