Political rights and civil liberties are generally respected in the Solomon Islands. There are weaknesses in the rule of law, unrest occasionally arises in the capital, Honiara, and corruption remains a serious concern, but recent governments have taken steps to address it. Violence against women is also a significant problem.
- Antigovernment protesters in Honiara rioted over a three-day period in November, damaging buildings in the city’s eastern areas and largely destroying its Chinatown. Four people were killed before the riots subsided with the arrival of peacekeepers from Australia, New Zealand, and Papua New Guinea (PNG).
- In December, Prime Minister Manasseh Sogavare survived a no-confidence vote lodged after the previous month’s riots.
|Was the current head of government or other chief national authority elected through free and fair elections?
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 seek the support of other members of Parliament (MPs) with promises of cash or ministerial portfolios.
Following April 2019 elections, Manasseh Sogavare won a fourth nonconsecutive term as prime minister. Solomon Islands Democratic Party (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. Sogavare was ruled eligible that April, while the High Court rejected Wale’s legal petition against Sogavare that May.
The National Parliament selects a governor general to represent the British monarch as head of state for five-year terms. The governor general appoints cabinet members on the advice of the prime minister. David Vunagi, a retired Anglican bishop, began his term in July 2019.
|Were the current national legislative representatives elected through free and fair elections?
The National Parliament’s 50 members are directly elected in single-seat constituencies by a simple majority vote to serve four-year terms.
In the April 2019 elections, the SIDP and the Kadere Party each won 8 seats, while independents won another 21. Another six parties won the remainder. Days after the polls, support among MPs shifted to Our Party, which formed a governing coalition with Kadere, the Democratic Alliance, and the Solomon Islands People First Party. Commonwealth observers commended the poll’s overall conduct but called for voter-registration improvements and expanded early-voting options.
|Are the electoral laws and framework fair, and are they implemented impartially by the relevant election management bodies?
The legal framework generally provides for democratic elections. The Solomon Islands Electoral Commission (SIEC) had fallen under the jurisdiction of the Home Affairs Ministry but was placed under the prime minister’s office in 2020.
The electoral rolls have been improved since the 2013 introduction of a biometric voter registration system. Nevertheless, the SIEC found 4,000 instances of multiple voter registration during the 2018–19 registration period.
In April 2021, a document showing that the government was considering a one-year extension of the parliament’s term via a constitutional amendment was leaked to the public. Opposition MPs and members of the public criticized the proposal, which remained under consideration at year’s end.
|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?
There are no restrictions on the right to organize political parties, but political alliances are driven more by personal ties and local allegiances than formal policy positions or ideology. Party affiliations shift frequently, often as part of efforts to dislodge incumbent governments. MPs shifted to Our Party days after the April 2019 polls were held. By June 2020, the party had 32 MPs.
The 2014 Political Parties Integrity Act was meant to encourage a stronger party system through more formalized registration mechanisms. Many formerly party-aligned legislators stood as independents in the 2014 and 2019 elections, calculating that doing so left them with greater flexibility under the legislation. Of the 333 candidates who took part in the April 2019 elections, 170 ran as 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?
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. Sogavare survived a no-confidence vote in December 2021; Matthew Wale lodged that motion after riots took place in Honiara in late November.
No incumbent premier has been able to win reelection, although both Sogavare and former prime minister Solomon Mamaloni were repeatedly able to return to power after a period in opposition.
|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?
People’s political choices are generally unconstrained, though church and tribal leaders exert strong influence in some areas. On the island of New Georgia, the Christian Fellowship Church regularly secured the reelection of its candidate, Job Dudley Tausinga, between 1984 and 2014.
China has sought to deepen ties with the Solomon Islands and won Honiara’s diplomatic recognition in 2019. Malaita Province premier Daniel Suidani, who has denounced Honiara’s relations with Beijing, aims to hold an independence referendum in 2022, though Honiara called the plan illegal in 2020. In May 2021, Suidani traveled to Taiwan for medical treatment, which the Chinese embassy in Honiara voiced concern over. Malaita politicians who were reportedly backed by Beijing unsuccessfully sought to remove Suidani from the provincial premiership in October.
Beijing provides financial backing for the Rural Constituency Development Fund (RCDF), which is dispersed by Solomon Islands MPs; in April 2021, the Island Sun reported that MPs were required to devote some RCDF funding to water and sanitation projects under a condition imposed by Beijing.
|Do various segments of the population (including ethnic, racial, religious, gender, LGBT+, and other relevant groups) have full political rights and electoral opportunities?
Women and ethnic minorities enjoy full political rights under the law, but discrimination limits political opportunities for women in practice. Only four women held parliamentary seats in 2021.
|Do the freely elected head of government and national legislative representatives determine the policies of the government?
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 cabinet splits are frequent.
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 Taipei to Beijing in 2019 temporarily destabilized his government, with a group of pro-Taiwan MPs—including planning minister and former prime minister Rick “Hou” Houenipwela—being dismissed from the cabinet after they abstained from a vote on the matter.
|Are safeguards against official corruption strong and effective?
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, which allowed the use of local custom as a defense in corruption cases and restricted retroactive application, watered down.
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 between the police force and the Finance Ministry. However, prosecutors have had difficulty winning convictions against politicians accused of corruption. Task Force Janus operations slowed in 2020 and 2021. In January 2021, Police Commissioner Mostyn Mangau promised that Task Force Janus remained active, citing COVID-19-related police deployments as a reason for its slowed activity.
|Does the government operate with openness and transparency?
Successive governments have not operated transparently. State dealings with foreign logging companies and mining companies are not open to scrutiny. There is no law stipulating a formal process by which the public may request official information.
Commonwealth observers who monitored the April 2019 elections voiced concern over the possible misuse of the RCDF ahead of the campaign. In early 2021, the Guadalcanal and Malaita provincial premiers threatened to sue the national government over the RCDF’s legality.
In September 2021, opposition leader Wale criticized the Sogavare government over the opaque, Beijing-funded National Development Fund (NDF), which dispersed monies to progovernment MPs; the NDF was previously supported by Taiwan.
|Are there free and independent media?
Press freedom 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.
|Are individuals free to practice and express their religious faith or nonbelief in public and private?
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?
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?
While social taboos persist regarding the open discussion of topics including domestic violence, rape, and child abuse, individuals have historically been free to express their views on politics and other sensitive matters. A ban on Facebook was considered in 2020 but was shelved in January 2021.
|Is there freedom of assembly?
Freedom of assembly is constitutionally guaranteed and generally upheld. However, peaceful demonstrations can give way to civil unrest, particularly during contentious parliamentary debates, elections, or large-scale labor actions.
In August 2021, protesters in Honiara called for Prime Minister Sogavare’s resignation; businesses in the city, including in its Chinatown, shuttered during the protest. Riots took place in Honiara over three days in November, reportedly after Sogavare declined to meet with antigovernment demonstrators. Rioters damaged buildings in the city’s eastern areas and in Chinatown, which was largely destroyed. Four people were killed during the unrest, which subsided after peacekeepers were sent by Australia, New Zealand, and PNG at Sogavare’s request.
|Is there freedom for nongovernmental organizations, particularly those that are engaged in human rights– and governance-related work?
Nongovernmental organizations (NGOs) often operate informally 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 NGO activities in the Solomon Islands.
|Is there freedom for trade unions and similar professional or labor organizations?
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, in 2014.
|Is there an independent judiciary?
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.
|Does due process prevail in civil and criminal matters?
Limited resources and capacity restraints are responsible for somewhat common due-process deficiencies. Half of the country’s prison inmates are on remand awaiting trial due to case backlogs.
|Is there protection from the illegitimate use of physical force and freedom from war and insurgencies?
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, which was disarmed in 2003, was the major focus of the Australian-led Regional Assistance Mission to the Solomon Islands (RAMSI), which launched that year. Nearly all Royal Solomon Islands Police Force officers subsequently resigned, retired, or were dismissed. An extensive training program has since created a force with younger members and with better geographic and gender balance. In 2016, RAMSI undertook a limited rearmament of the police force. RAMSI concluded in 2017, but a residual Australian advisory program continues, while Australia and New Zealand have bilaterally extended RAMSI programs. Mostyn Mangau became the first locally appointed police commissioner in 19 years when he took the post in 2020.
In December 2021, Prime Minister Sogavare announced that the government would accept capacity-building support for the police force from Beijing.
|Do laws, policies, and practices guarantee equal treatment of various segments of the population?
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’ imprisonment. 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 Malaita, even on a casual basis, for fear of antagonizing local communities.
Ethnic Chinese residents also face discrimination. Businesses and buildings owned or operated by ethnic Chinese were targeted during the unrest following Sogavare’s appointment in 2019, while Honiara’s Chinatown was largely destroyed during the November 2021 riots.
|Do individuals enjoy freedom of movement, including the ability to change their place of residence, employment, or education?
Residents generally enjoy freedom of movement, but some impediments exist, particularly in parts of rural Guadalcanal where people from Malaita were expelled during unrest in 1999–2000. Hostility to Malaitan settlement persists in parts of Western Province.
|Are individuals able to exercise the right to own property and establish private businesses without undue interference from state or nonstate actors?
The legal and regulatory framework largely supports property ownership and private business activity. However, property rights are frequently contested. GPPOL administrative buildings have been attacked in the past. Logging concessions have been disputed by local groups, as have tourism operations.
In 2020, Prime Minister Sogavare voiced his intention to restrict the sale of land to foreign buyers and bolster Indigenous land rights via constitutional amendments.
|Do individuals enjoy personal social freedoms, including choice of marriage partner and size of family, protection from domestic violence, and control over appearance?
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. Despite the 2014 Family Protection Act, which formally criminalized domestic violence and enabled victims to apply for protection orders, domestic violence and rape are serious and underreported problems. Victims are reluctant to take their cases to court.
|Do individuals enjoy equality of opportunity and freedom from economic exploitation?
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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