The 66-year-old four-time prime minister has again showed he still has plenty of fight, refusing to yield to attempts to oust him in parliament and on the streets, where recent violent protests destroyed swathes of the capital Honiara.
The wiry former accounting student has twice been ousted in votes of no confidence, and he appeared determined not to make it three.
For two hours Sogavare thundered at his opponents on the floor of parliament, at points shaking with rage before he secured enough votes to live another day as prime minister.
“We must stand up to this tyranny,” he screamed, banging his chair as he threatened opponents and vowed never to “bow down to the forces of evil”.
But the son of Seventh Day Adventist missionaries faces testing days ahead.
The presence of international peacekeepers has kept a lid on violence that erupted late last month but their deployment is expected to last only weeks.
And Sogavare seems in no mood to listen to his detractors, who see a leader who has become increasingly autocratic since his latest stint in power began in 2019.
“He used to be a listening prime minister,” said Transparency Solomon Islands chief executive Ruth Liloqula. “Now that’s not the case.”
Liloqula points to several major reforms that were pushed through without consultation, including his plan to extend the electoral term to five years and his switch in diplomatic allegiance from Taiwan to China.
“He is a prime minister who is actually abusing and misusing the power of the state to do as he pleases, that’s the main issue people are concerned about,” she told AFP.
– China shift –
Sogavare first became prime minister in 2000 when he was supported by rebels from Malaita, the Solomons’ most populous island, which is now the wellspring of opposition to his rule.
He lost a general election in 2001 but returned to power after another ballot in 2006, before a no-confidence vote the following year again relegated him to the opposition.
Sogavare’s third term in office from 2014 to 2017 also ended abruptly with another vote of no confidence, as allegations swirled that he had received donations from Chinese telecommunications giant Huawei.
More riots in Honiara greeted Sogavare’s most recent elevation to the top job in April 2019, when he won a run-off vote after an inconclusive election.
For many, the defining issue of his fourth term has been the diplomatic switch to China, which provided a major coup for Beijing in its efforts to isolate Taiwan.
Sogavare revealed his thinking in frank remarks to a podcast that he later said were intended to be off the record.
“To be honest, when it comes to economics and politics, Taiwan is completely useless to us,” he said.
The switch angered Sogavare’s former supporters in Malaita, who maintain strong ties with Taipei, and many of the demonstrators who took to the streets in Honiara last month were from the island.
– ‘Unexplained wealth’ –
Liloqula said the shift to China fed perceptions that the government under Sogavare was allowing foreign logging and mining firms to strip the Solomons of its natural assets while ordinary citizens remained mired in poverty.
“What we see is that some in the executive government are suddenly very, very rich and there’s unexplained wealth being amassed by these people,” she said.
The Solomon Islands topped a recent survey on corruption by Transparency International, with 97 percent of respondents rating it a big problem in government.
Another survey earlier this year found 66 percent of Solomon Islanders thought their country was heading in the wrong direction, with only 18 percent optimistic about the future.
That is difficult terrain to navigate, even for a consummate political survivor.