It was a 16th century Spanish explorer who gave the Solomon Islands their name. Alvaro de Mendana de Neira was hoping to convince his royal patrons that the South Pacific archipelago, notorious for headhunting, cannibalism and skull worship, contained gold - perhaps even the fabled mines of King Solomon. But in the four centuries since Mendana encountered the islands, wealth and stability have eluded the country once nicknamed The Happy Isles. The latest chapter in the former British colony's sorry history has unfolded over the last 10 days. The appointment last week of a veteran politician, Snyder Rini, sparked two days of rioting and looting during which Chinese-owned businesses in the capital were destroyed and ethnic Chinese were forced to flee. The violence was spurred by the perception among ordinary people that Mr Rini, 46, had won the premiership with the help of 'dirty money' from Taiwan. Mr Rini announced his shock resignation on Wednesday and is likely to hand over the reins of power next week to another veteran politician, Manasseh Sogavare. So who are these two men, and what does the likely transition of power from one to another herald for the Solomons? 'Rini is deeply unpopular and widely seen as a crook,' said one long-term observer of the Solomons, who asked not to be named. 'He's politically astute but tainted by corruption.' Mr Rini comes from the New Georgia group of islands, in the west of the archipelago. 'He's from a region dominated by a beautiful lagoon which is meant to be World Heritage-listed. But there's rampant logging on the surrounding islands by Asian companies and there are suggestions that money from timber helped him win power,' the source said. Mr Rini's appointment as prime minister, after a secret ballot among the Solomons' 50 MPs, was met with public outrage because he was widely seen as a stooge of the unpopular outgoing prime minister, Sir Allan Kemakeza. Ordinary islanders were frustrated and angry with the endless recycling of the same old faces in the country's revolving-door brand of politics. Mr Rini was accused of buying votes with the help of Taiwan, which is desperate to retain the Solomons' diplomatic allegiance, and Chinese businessmen. Mistrust of Mr Rini goes back to 2000, when as finance minister he granted generous tax breaks to mostly Asian-owned companies operating in the Solomons. A year later Mr Rini was made deputy prime minister when his political ally Sir Allan became prime minister. Sir Allan was also accused of corruption, specifically the misappropriation of large sums of money loaned by Taiwan and intended as compensation to the victims of the Solomons' civil war, which lasted from 1998 to 2003, and only came to an end when Australia spearheaded a 2,000-strong intervention force. Among the most trenchant critics of the operation was Mr Sogavare, 55, who after a fresh vote among MPs on Thursday could be the Solomons' new leader. The son of a Seventh Day Adventist preacher, Mr Sogavare accused Canberra of harbouring a secret desire to recolonise his country, a charge the Australians have always regarded as preposterous. He comes from Choiseul, a deeply traditional province in the western Solomons where crocodiles thought to embody the spirits of ancestors still lurk in creeks and swamps. 'He's fiercely intelligent, very Christian, very disciplined and a teetotaler,' said Sinclair Dinnen, an expert on Melanesian politics at the Australian National University. Mr Sogavare has already been prime minister, for an 18-month spell in 2000 and 2001. He assumed the post after his predecessor, Bartholomew Ulufa'alu, was deposed in a coup. 'Sogavare came to power under a cloud, to put it mildly,' Dr Dinnen said. 'His rhetoric was about bringing peace to the Solomons but in many ways his administration accelerated the process of political disintegration, and there was blatant corruption.' It is a measure of the fluidity of politics in the Solomons that Mr Rini and Mr Sogavare, who are now on opposite sides of the divide, were once close colleagues. If Mr Sogavare does become prime minister, he will have to soften his previous hostility to the Australian-led regional assistance mission (Ramsi). Canberra is spending A$250 million ($1.46 billion) a year on trying to put the country back on its feet and wants a premier it can work with. 'I think he'll moderate his views because Ramsi remains very popular among ordinary people, and provides security for the country and the political class,' said Michael Fullilove, from the Lowy Institute, an independent Australian think-tank. Mr Sogavare has indicated that he would switch his country's diplomatic recognition from Taiwan to Beijing, a move guaranteed to dismay Taipei. The Solomon Islands' problems will take years to solve, whoever is elected prime minister next week. Corruption is endemic, ethnic tension is rife and the economy is failing to keep up with rapid population growth. Little wonder that the Solomons and other Melanesian countries are sometimes described as a miniature Africa in the Pacific. 'The job of prime minister is less about leading the country than desperately trying to hold a coalition of MPs together,' Dr Dinnen said. 'Sogavare's work will be cut out just on that basis.'