Solomons - Government
The Solomon Islands is a constitutional monarchy and has a parliamentary democracy system of government. The British monarch is the Monarch and Head of State, represented by the Governor-General who is chosen by the Parliament and sits in office for up to five-year terms. There is a unicameral parliament (all members sit in one chamber) of 50 members, elected for four-year terms. However, Parliament may be dissolved by majority vote of its members before the completion of its term.
Representation in the Parliament is based on single-member constituencies. Following legislative elections (held at least every four years), the Prime Minister, who is either the leader of the majority party (although there has only been one majority party in the history of the Solomon Islands governments), or the leader of the majority coalition, is invited to form government. The Prime Minister then chooses the other members of the cabinet. Each ministry is headed by a cabinet member, who is assisted by a Permanent Secretary, a career public servant who directs the staff of the ministry.
The Solomon Islands legal system uses a hierarchy of the courts following the standard model of inferior (local) court, magistrate’s court, superior (high) court, and an appeal court. Separate courts deal with customary land and minor local disputes. The Customary Land Appeal Court may receive appeals from the Local courts. Appeals from the Customary Land Appeal Court to the High Court are allowed on points of law only. The Solomon Islands suffers from a shortage of judges and other legal personnel.
Solomon Islands politics are characterised by very fluid coalitions and alliances. The Solomon Islands has a multi-party system with numerous political parties. In most elections, no one party wins an absolute majority of seats and so usually parties must work with each other to form coalition governments. They are subject to frequent votes of no confidence, and government leadership and Cabinet changes are common. Many parties are established immediately prior to an election and most are very short-lived. Accordingly consistent application of policy in all areas of politics across the Provinces is very difficult to achieve.
In 1960, an advisory council of Solomon Islanders was superseded by a legislative council, and an executive council was created as the protectorate's policymaking body. The council was given progressively more authority. In 1974, a new constitution was adopted establishing a parliamentary democracy and ministerial system of government. In mid-1975, the name Solomon Islands officially replaced that of British Solomon Islands Protectorate. On January 2, 1976, the Solomons became self-governing, and independence followed on July 7, 1978.
The first post-independence government was elected in August 1980. Prime Minister Peter Kenilorea was head of government until September 1981, when he was succeeded by Solomon Mamaloni as the result of a realignment within the parliamentary coalitions. Following the November 1984 elections, Kenilorea was again elected Prime Minister. Kenilorea, at the head of the ruling coalition (comprising the Solomon Islands United Party (SIUPA), the Solomons Ano Sagufenua and independents), survived two no-confidence motions (in September 1985 and July 1986) by the opposition before eventually resigning in November 1986 in the midst of a controversy relating to aid for cyclone damage. The next month, Deputy Prime Minister Ezekiel Alebua was chosen by the National Parliament as his successo following shifts within the parliamentary coalitions.
In the 1989 poll, 257 candidates (including three women) contested the 38 parliamentary seats. The election, held in early 1989, returned the main opposition People's Alliance Party (PAP), led by Mr. Solomon Mamaloni, emerged as the overall victor with 21 seats as SIUPA fell to a total of four. In this context, Mr. Mamaloni became Prime Minister the following month.
Francis Billy Hilly was elected Prime Minister following the national elections in June, 1993, and headed the government until November 1994 when a shift in parliamentary loyalties brought Solomon Mamaloni back to power. In national election held on August 6, 1997, Bartholomew Ulufa'alu was elected Prime Minister to head a coalition government which christened itself the Solomon Islands Alliance for Change. Former Prime Minister Mamaloni was Leader of the Opposition.
At a meeting of Parliament on 30 Jun 2000, Manasseh Sogavare, who had earlier been Finance Minister in Ulufa'alu's government but had subsequently joined the opposition, was elected as Prime Minister. However Sogavare's election was shrouded in controversy because six MPs, who were supporters of Sogavare’s opponent, were unable to attend parliament for the crucial vote.
Following Sogavare’s election, reinvigorated efforts were made, assisted by Australian and New Zealand, to bring the militant groups to the negotiating table. Talks took place on board HMAS Tobruk in Jul 2000, concluding successfully with agreement to a ceasefire on 3 Aug 2000. These talks provided the momentum leading to the peace talks at the RAAF base in Townsville, between 9 and 16 Oct 2000. The Townsville Peace Agreement (TPA) provided a framework for consolidating peace. It provided for a weapons and general amnesty, disarmament and demilitarisation, restructuring of the RSIPF, the decommissioning of the Joint Operations Force, and the compensation of individuals and proposed development of areas affected by the violence and displacement of people.
The TPA was signed by the MEF, elements of the IFM, and GoSLB. This was closely followed by the Marau Peace agreement in Feb 2001, signed by the MEF, IFM, the Guadalcanal Provincial Government and GoSLB. However, a key Guale militant leader, Harold Keke, refused to sign the Agreement causing a split within the Guale groups. Subsequently, Guale signatories to the Agreement led by Andrew Te'e joined with the Malaitan-dominated police to reform the Joint Operations Force. During the next two years the conflict moved to the Weathercoast (Southern side) of Guadalcanal as the Joint Operations Force unsuccessfully attempted to capture Keke and his group. An indigenous Peace Monitoring Council (PMC) was charged with responsibility for implementing the peace, with the assistance of an International Peace Monitoring Team (IPMT), established at the invitation of TPA signatories.
New elections on 5 Dec 2001 returned a government with a mandate to redress the country’s severe decline. It brought Sir Allan Kemakeza into the Prime Minister’s chair with the support of his People's Alliance Party and also the Association of Independent Members. Donors, including Australia and New Zealand, provided substantial support to promote free and fair elections, particularly through support to the Solomon Islands Electoral Commission, to the RSIPF, and through the provision of 90 international electoral observers from Australia, New Zealand, Pacific Islands Forum countries, the Commonwealth Secretariat, the UN, the EU, UK, US, Japan, and Taiwan. The elections proceeded peacefully and the large contingent of international observers concluded the elections were fair and reflected the will of the people of Solomon Islands. About two-thirds of sitting members were defeated, including the majority of ministers of the outgoing Sogavare Government.
Prime Minister Kemakeza and his Cabinet made efforts in early 2002 to address law and order problems, to develop credible economic policies, and to include the wider community in discussions to address the major problems facing the Solomon Islands. Kemakeza recognized both the seriousness of the situation and that significant progress in addressing the law and order problems in Solomon Islands was a prerequisite for social and economic recovery. The IPMT departed Solomon Islands on 25 Jun 02, after agreement by GoSLB, GoAS, and GoNZ, that the IPMT had done all it could to assist the peace process.
Australian and Pacific Islands police, military and civilian personnel arrived in the Solomon Islands on 24 Jul 2003, as part of the Australia-led Regional Assistance Mission to the Solomon Islands (RAMSI). It was a sizable international security contingent initially of 2200 police and troops, with representatives from 20 other Pacific nations. Its operational title was Operation HELPEM FREN, which in Pidgin English means 'Help a Friend'.
On 5 Apr 2006, Solomon Islands held its first national elections since RAMSI’s arrival. The peaceful elections were monitored by 44 international observers, including 10 from Australia. The observers judged that the election was conducted in an orderly and lawful manner. On 18 Apr 2006 former Deputy Prime Minister Snyder Rini was elected Prime Minister by the newly-constituted Parliament. The announcement of Rini as Prime Minister triggered an outbreak of civil unrest in Honiara. Allegations that the newly elected Prime Minister had used bribes from Chinese businessmen to buy the votes of members of Parliament led to mass rioting in the capital Honiara. A deep underlying resentment against the minority Chinese business community led to much of Honiara’s Chinatown being destroyed. Tensions had also been increased by the belief that large sums of money were being exported to China. China sent chartered aircraft to evacuate hundreds of Chinese who fled to avoid the riots.
In the elections held in April 2006, no party won more than four seats, triggering political instability until the 2010 elections. Independent candidates - most of whom were reportedly allied with the Association of Independent Members of Parliament (AIM, formed by independent MPs in the outgoing legislature) - took 30 seats. The National Party (NP) and the Solomon Islands Party for Rural Advancement won four seats each, while the Solomon Islands Democratic Party took three. The then Prime Minister Allan Kemakeza's People's Alliance Party (PAP) took three seats. Former Prime Minister Manasseh Sogavare's Social Credit Party (Socred) and Speaker Kenilorea's Liberal Party (LP) took two seats each. No women were elected in 2006. Only one woman has ever entered parliament in the country's history.
Mr. Snyder Rini's candidature (backed by AIM) for the post of prime minister following the 2006 elections triggered widespread street protests in the capital Honiara, targeted at the Chinatown area. Protesters alleged corruption and insisted that Mr. Rini had been unfairly favouring Chinese businessmen. Protests intensified after Mr. Rini was elected Prime Minister on 18 April, prompting peacekeeping troops from Australia and New Zealand to arrive in the Solomon Islands the following day. On 24 April, Mr. Kenilorea was elected unopposed as Speaker. Two days later, Mr. Rini resigned as Prime Minister in anticipation of a no-confidence vote in parliament and was succeeded by caretaker Prime Minister Fred Fono, a close ally. Parties opposing the premiership of either Mr. Rini or Mr. Kemakeza subsequently formed a Grand Coalition for Change (GCC) government. Their candidate for the premiership, Mr. Manasseh Sogavare (Socred), defeated Mr. Fono in May.
In November 2007, nine ministers, including the then Education Minister Derek Sikua, defected to the opposition amid controversy over the appointment of Mr. Julian Moti - an Australian citizen wanted for child sex charges - to the post of Attorney General. In December, Prime Minister Sogavare lost a no-confidence vote brought by Mr. Sikua. Parliament subsequently elected Mr. Sikua, who was serving his first term as a parliamentarian, as the new Prime Minister. In January 2008, Mr. Sikua's Coalition for National Unity and Rural Advancement government (C-NURA) dismissed Mr. Moti from the post of Attorney General, which led to a normalization of the country's relations with Australia.
On 15 January 2010, Speaker Peter Kenilorea announced that parliament would be dissolved on 24 April in view of parliamentary elections. In May, he announced that he would be retiring from politics. He had become the Chief Minister of the Solomon Islands in 1976, and led his country to independence from Great Britain two years later, before becoming the first Prime Minister. On 22 June, Governor-General Frank Kabui called elections for 4 August upon the proposal of Prime Minister Derek Sikua. The GoSLB, with international electoral support, successfully conducted the 4 Aug 2010 elections, the second election since RAMSI’s arrival. The UN Secretary General and Commonwealth of Nations commended the Solomon Islands on the peaceful conduct of the elections. Of the 50 seats, 25 new MPs and 25 former MPs were elected, with a new Prime Minister, Mr Danny Philip.
The 2014 elections returned a fragmented parliament. A record 32 independent candidates were elected to the 50-member Parliament, up from 19 in 2010. They included former Prime Minister Manasseh Sogavare. Outgoing Finance Minister Rick Houenipwela's Democratic Alliance Party came in first with seven seats, followed by the United Democratic Party and the People's Alliance Party which took five and three seats respectively. Prime Minister Mr. Gordon Darcy Lilo, who had led the ruling coalition called the National Coalition for Rural Advancement (NCRA) since 2012, lost his seat. Ms. Freda Comua was elected, becoming the third woman only in the country to win parliamentary representation.
Following the elections, Mr. Sogavare established the Democratic Coalition for Change (DCC) in view of forming a new government. The DCC comprised the United Democratic Party and the Kadere Party (which took one seat) as well as a number of independents who had previously held high-level government positions. On 10 December, Parliament elected Mr. Sogavare as Prime Minister with 31 votes. He defeated Mr. Jeremiah Manele (Democratic Alliance Party), who took the remaining 19 votes. The latter's candidacy was supported by the Solomon Islands Peoples Democratic Coalition. The Solomon Islands Peoples Democratic Coalition (SIPDC) was formed by the Democratic Alliance Party, the Peoples' Alliance Party, the Solomon Islands Party for Rural Advancement and Solomon Islands People First Party.
Prime Minister Sogavare promised to rebuild the country's economy through foreign investment. On 17 December, Parliament elected Mr. Ajilon Jasper Nasiu, as its new Speaker. He defeated Ms. Taeasi Sanga, the long-serving Clerk, nominated by Opposition Leader Manele (SIPDC) and Independent Leader Mr. Manasseh Maelanga.
Prior to the elections, Prime Minister Lilo introduced biometric voter registration and issued voter identification cards to prevent people from casting multiple votes. More than 280,000 voters were registered for the 2014 elections, after an audit had removed 160,000 fraudulent registrations. Official turnout figures in 2014 were significantly higher than in previous elections.
On 14 September 2018 thousands of people began lining up at voter registration booths in Solomon Islands as preparations ramp up towards provincial and national elections early in 2019. The chief electoral officer, Mose Saitala, says more than 50,000 new voters are expected to be added to the 286,000 strong roll which was last updated in 2014. More than 330 candidates are competing for 50 seats in parliament. National issues, such as health care and infrastructure, will dominate the poll.
Solomon Islanders headed to the polls 03 April 2019 surrounded by tight security amid fears of electoral interference. There were concerns over alleged vote buying on so-called Devil’s Night that falls the day before the election. Anti-corruption group Transparency Solomon Islands said that vote buying had “now become a common aspect of elections” in the Solomon Islands.
Solomon Islands’ police commissioner Matthew Varley urged voters to respect democracy. “People talk about Devil’s Night. My question is 'how much is your vote worth, how much is your voice worth?’ Because this is what a person's vote is — it is their right to choose the leaders of this nation, and if we are going to sell our vote for $200 or a bag of rice then I think we can do better than that,” he said.
Fifteen parties contested the election. A good turnout of voters in Solomon Islands was marred by several irregularities at polling places. People turned up at the wrong polling stations, and others claimed to have been omitted from the roll altogether. For the first time, ballot boxes will be taken to the provincial capitals for counting. Also for the first time, parades - including victory flotillas between islands - were banned because of safety fears.
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