- The Solomon Islands Democratic Party (SIDP) and Kadere were the parliament’s two largest immediately after the April election, winning 8 seats each, while independents won 21. Days after the election, a new governing coalition coalesced around the relaunched Ownership, Unity, and Responsibility Party (Our Party) of former prime minister Manasseh Sogavare.
- Sogavare won a fourth nonconsecutive term as premier after he was selected by the parliament in late April. SIDP leader Matthew Wale attempted to halt his selection in the courts, but his legal efforts were rejected in May.
- In September, the Solomon Islands ended its diplomatic recognition of Taiwan, shifting it to China. A group of MPs, including former prime minister Rick “Hou” Houenipwela, were dismissed from the cabinet after abstaining on the government’s decision.
|Was the current head of government or other chief national authority elected through free and fair elections?||3.003 4.004|
The prime minister, who serves as the head of government, is elected by the National Parliament. Irregularities are frequent in the run-up to prime ministerial elections, known as “second elections.” Leading contenders usually separate into camps in Honiara’s major hotels and bid for the support of other members of Parliament (MPs) with promises of cash or ministerial portfolios.
Following the April 2019 general election, Manasseh Sogavare was elected, winning a fourth nonconsecutive term as prime minister. SIDP leader Matthew Wale attempted to stop Sogavare’s selection, saying that Sogavare relaunched the Ownership, Unity, and Responsibility Party (Our Party) too late to abide by a law requiring prime ministerial candidates to maintain party membership; Sogavare was previously aligned with the SIDP before moving to Our Party after the election was held. Then governor general Frank Kabui ruled that Sogavare was eligible in late April, and the High Court rejected Wale’s legal petition against Sogavare in May.
Parliament also selects a governor general to represent the British monarch as head of state for five-year terms. The governor general appoints members of the cabinet on the advice of the prime minister. David Vunagi, a retired Anglican bishop, was named governor general in June 2019 and took office in July.
|Were the current national legislative representatives elected through free and fair elections?||3.003 4.004|
The 50 members of the National Parliament are directly elected in single-seat constituencies by a simple majority vote to serve four-year terms. In the April 2019 legislative election, the SIDP and the Kadere Party obtained 8 seats each, while 21 seats went to independents; another 6 parties won the remainder. In the days after the election, support among MPs shifted to the relaunched Our Party, which formed the country’s governing coalition along with the Kadere Party, the Democratic Alliance, and the Peoples First Party.
A Commonwealth observer mission commended the peaceful conduct of the election, but called for improvements in the voter registration process, along with expanded early voting options for individuals living overseas and for essential service personnel.
|Are the electoral laws and framework fair, and are they implemented impartially by the relevant election management bodies?||3.003 4.004|
The legal framework generally provides for democratic elections. The electoral rolls have been improved since the 2013 introduction of a biometric voter registration system. Nevertheless, the Solomon Islands Electoral Commission (SIEC) found 4,000 instances of multiple voter registration during the 2018–19 registration period. The SIEC reported its findings to the police, but noted that many of these incidents would likely go uninvestigated for a lack of resources.
|Do the people have the right to organize in different political parties or other competitive political groupings of their choice, and is the system free of undue obstacles to the rise and fall of these competing parties or groupings?||4.004 4.004|
There are no restrictions on the right to organize political parties, but in practice political alliances are driven more by personal ties and local allegiances than formal policy platforms or ideology, and party affiliations shift frequently, often as part of efforts to dislodge incumbent governments.
The 2014 Political Parties Integrity Act was meant to encourage a stronger party system through more formalized registration mechanisms. Many formerly party-aligned legislators responded by standing as independents in the 2014 and 2019 elections, calculating that doing so left them with greater flexibility under the new law. Of the 333 candidates who took part in the April 2019 election, 170 ran as political party candidates, while another 163 ran as independents.
|Is there a realistic opportunity for the opposition to increase its support or gain power through elections?||4.004 4.004|
Opposition parties and candidates may campaign freely, and power shifts frequently between rival groups. Since 1978, three governments have been ousted in opposition-led no-confidence votes, and prime ministers have resigned to fend off no-confidence challenges on two occasions. No incumbent prime minister has been able to win reelection, although both Sogavare and former prime minister Solomon Mamaloni were repeatedly able to return to the prime minister’s office after a period on the opposition benches.
|Are the people’s political choices free from domination by forces that are external to the political sphere, or by political forces that employ extrapolitical means?||3.003 4.004|
People’s political choices are generally unconstrained, though in some regions of the country church or tribal leaders exert strong influence. On the island of New Georgia, the Christian Fellowship Church has secured reelection of its candidate, Job Dudley Tausinga, for decades, but schisms have since emerged on that island.
|Do various segments of the population (including ethnic, religious, gender, LGBT, and other relevant groups) have full political rights and electoral opportunities?||3.003 4.004|
Women and ethnic minorities enjoy full political rights under the law, but discrimination limits political opportunities for women in practice. While lawmakers have voiced support for increasing women’s participation in the National Parliament, including through reserved seats for women, only three women held seats at the end of 2019. Freda Tuki Soriocomua, who entered the parliament in 2014, lost her seat in 2018 after her predecessor filed a legal petition against her, but won reelection in April 2019. Lanelle Tanangada entered the parliament in a 2018 by-election and retained her seat in April 2019. Lillian Maefai won her seat in a December 2019 by-election, after her husband, incumbent Charles Maefai, died in office.
|Do the freely elected head of government and national legislative representatives determine the policies of the government?||3.003 4.004|
Solomon Islands governments have generally been able to determine national policy without outside interference, but the country’s fractious politics hamper efficient policymaking. Prime ministers have struggled to sustain legislative majorities, and splits within the cabinet are frequent. Ministries are often run as ministers’ personal fiefdoms, lacking accountability to the prime minister.
Prime ministers can consequently face significant difficulty when enacting policy choices, with decisions prompting fights for political survival. Sogavare’s decision to switch diplomatic recognition from Taiwan to China in September 2019 destabilized his government, with a group of pro-Taiwan MPs–including planning minister and former prime minister Hou–being dismissed from cabinet after they abstained from a vote on the matter. In late September, Sogavare accused Hou of bribing MPs to support a no-confidence motion against him.
|Are safeguards against official corruption strong and effective?||3.003 4.004|
Corruption and abuse of office are serious problems. The previous Sogavare government struggled to win support for anticorruption legislation in 2016 and 2017, largely due to resistance from within the cabinet. In 2018, the Hou government secured passage of the Anti-Corruption Act, which establishes an independent anticorruption commission, and the Whistleblowers Protection Act. Some opposition MPs considered the laws to be watered down, for example by allowing the use of local custom as a defense in corruption cases and by stipulating that the law cannot be applied retroactively.
Under both the Sogavare and Hou governments, a number of senior officials were investigated or arrested on corruption charges due to the efforts of Task Force Janus, a joint anticorruption initiative by the police force and the Finance Ministry. However, prosecutors have had difficulty winning convictions against politicians accused of corruption; in March 2019, charges were dropped against MP Dickson Mua, who was arrested on suspicion of misappropriating SI$3 million ($370,000) in shipping grants in 2018, after prosecution witnesses repeatedly failed to appear in court. In late 2018, minister Samuel Manetoali was accused of misappropriating funds to host a Christmas party in 2014, but was acquitted in August 2019.
|Does the government operate with openness and transparency?||1.001 4.004|
Successive governments in the Solomon Islands have not operated transparently. State dealings with foreign logging companies, as well as mining companies, are not open to scrutiny. There is no law stipulating a formal process by which members of the public may request official information.
Commonwealth observers who monitored the April 2019 election voiced concern over the possible misuse of the public Rural Constituency Development Fund (RCDF) ahead of the campaign; in late 2018, each MP received SI$400,000 ($57,000) from the RCDF, and the funds were allegedly used for campaigning purposes by lawmakers. Despite these concerns, efforts to improve accountability for funds spent by MPs in their constituencies have not been greatly successful.
|Are there free and independent media?||4.004 4.004|
Freedom of the press is usually respected. While politicians and elites sometimes use legal and extralegal means to intimidate journalists, such incidents have been relatively rare in recent years. There are several print newspapers. The government operates a national radio station, and subnational and private radio stations are also available. Subscription television services offer some local content in addition to foreign broadcasts. In 2018, the Solomon Islands adopted the Whistleblowers Protection Act, which was expected to facilitate journalistic efforts to report on political corruption. In April 2019, Reporters Without Borders (RSF) criticized the use of defamation laws, warning that they worked to intimidate journalists and encourage self-censorship.
|Are individuals free to practice and express their religious faith or nonbelief in public and private?||4.004 4.004|
Freedom of religion is generally respected. Registration requirements for religious groups are not onerous, and religious education is not mandatory.
|Is there academic freedom, and is the educational system free from extensive political indoctrination?||4.004 4.004|
Academic freedom is generally respected.
|Are individuals free to express their personal views on political or other sensitive topics without fear of surveillance or retribution?||4.004 4.004|
While social taboos persist regarding the open discussion of some topics, including domestic violence, rape, and child abuse, individuals are generally free to express their views on politics and other sensitive matters.
|Is there freedom of assembly?||3.003 4.004|
The constitution guarantees freedom of assembly, and the government generally upholds this right. However, peaceful demonstrations can give way to civil unrest, particularly during contentious parliamentary debates, elections, or large-scale labor actions. In late April 2019, demonstrators in Honiara rallied against Sogavare’s selection as prime minister; police used tear gas to disperse protesters after a local hotel was damaged, and arrested at least 30 people. Disturbances continued in the settlement of Burns Creek for two days after Sogavare’s appointment.
|Is there freedom for nongovernmental organizations, particularly those that are engaged in human rights– and governance-related work?||4.004 4.004|
Nongovernmental organizations (NGOs) in the country operate informally in many cases, and the government is not always receptive to the viewpoints of governance-focused groups. Locally based NGOs often lack resources and reportedly grow dependent on the funds and priorities of international donors. Nevertheless, there are no major constraints on the activities of NGOs in the Solomon Islands.
|Is there freedom for trade unions and similar professional or labor organizations?||3.003 4.004|
Workers are free to organize, and strikes are permitted with certain restrictions. Laws against antiunion discrimination by employers are reportedly ineffective. The country’s main labor union, the Solomon Islands National Union of Workers, was disbanded by court order in 2013 after lengthy litigation over an illegal strike by plantation workers. However, labor activists registered a new entity, the Workers Union of Solomon Islands (WUSI), in 2014.
|Is there an independent judiciary?||4.004 4.004|
The judiciary has a reputation for independence, though a severe lack of resources has contributed to case backlogs. Judges are appointed by the governor general on the advice of an impartial Judicial and Legal Service Commission. The Court of Appeal is mainly reliant on foreign judges. In August 2019, Maelyn Bird became the first woman to serve as a local High Court judge in the Solomon Islands.
|Does due process prevail in civil and criminal matters?||2.002 4.004|
Deficiencies in due process are somewhat common, but they are mainly a result of limited resources and capacity constraints. Due to case backlogs, roughly half of the country’s prison inmates are on remand awaiting trial.
|Is there protection from the illegitimate use of physical force and freedom from war and insurgencies?||3.003 4.004|
There are few major threats to physical security, though crime remains a problem in some areas. While the country has a history of internal conflict, the threat has subsided over the past two decades, thanks in large part to security aid from international partners. Rebuilding the police force was the major focus of the 2003–17 Australian-led Regional Assistance Mission to the Solomon Islands (RAMSI). The local police force was disarmed in 2003, and its paramilitary unit, the Police Field Force (which had participated in a 2000 coup), was disbanded. Nearly all of the police officers serving in the Royal Solomon Islands Police Force (RSIPF) have resigned, retired, or been dismissed since 2003, and an extensive training program has created a much more youthful force, with better representation of officers from across the country, and a better gender balance. In 2016, RAMSI undertook a limited rearmament of the police force.
RAMSI concluded its mission in the Solomon Islands in 2017, but a residual Australian police advisory program continues, and Australia and New Zealand have extended RAMSI programs under bilateral auspices. Matthew Varley, who served as the country’s police commissioner from 2017 to November 2019, is an Australian, as was his predecessor. Sixteen years after the RSIPF’s wholesale restructuring, there are now signs of significant improvements in the functioning of the police force, as was demonstrated by its ability to respond to rioting after Prime Minister Sogavare’s appointment in April 2019.
|Do laws, policies, and practices guarantee equal treatment of various segments of the population?||2.002 4.004|
The constitution prohibits discrimination based on race, place of origin, sex, and some other categories, but the legal framework does not provide robust protections. De facto discrimination limits economic opportunities for women. Same-sex sexual activity can be punished with up to 14 years in prison. While cases are reportedly rare, the government has resisted international pressure to decriminalize such activity.
Discrimination based on regional differences also remains a factor. The Guadalcanal Plains Palm Oil Ltd. (GPPOL) operation on northern Guadalcanal, one of the country’s biggest employers, avoids employing laborers from the nearby island of Malaita, even on a casual basis picking loose fruit, for fear of antagonizing local Guadalcanal communities.
Ethnic Chinese residents have also been subject to discrimination in the Solomon Islands; businesses and buildings owned or operated by ethnic Chinese were targeted during the unrest following Sogavare’s appointment in April 2019.
|Do individuals enjoy freedom of movement, including the ability to change their place of residence, employment, or education?||3.003 4.004|
Residents generally enjoy freedom of movement, but some impediments exist, particularly in parts of rural Guadalcanal where people from the island of Malaita were expelled during the unrest in 1999–2000. Hostility to Malaitan settlement also persists in parts of the Western Province.
|Are individuals able to exercise the right to own property and establish private businesses without undue interference from state or nonstate actors?||3.003 4.004|
The legal and regulatory framework largely supports property ownership and private business activity. However, property rights are frequently contested. GPPOL has had its administrative buildings attacked on several occasions. Logging concessions have been disputed by local groups, as have tourism operations.
|Do individuals enjoy personal social freedoms, including choice of marriage partner and size of family, protection from domestic violence, and control over appearance?||3.003 4.004|
Individual freedoms on personal status issues such as marriage and divorce are generally protected. However, the legal age of marriage is 15, and about a fifth of women are married by age 18. The 2014 Family Protection Act, which formally criminalized domestic violence and enabled victims to apply for protection orders, has been implemented, and police have received training on how to interact with victims and handle cases. Nevertheless, domestic violence and rape are serious and underreported problems, and there is a reluctance among many victims who do report offenses to take their cases to court.
|Do individuals enjoy equality of opportunity and freedom from economic exploitation?||3.003 4.004|
Legal protections against exploitative working conditions are not consistently enforced, though authorities have made efforts to update and implement laws against human trafficking in recent years. Local and foreign women and children are vulnerable to sex trafficking and domestic servitude, including through forced marriages or “adoptions” to pay off debts. Migrant workers sometimes face forced labor in the mining, logging, and fishing industries.
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