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, and corruption remains a serious concern, though recent governments have taken steps to address it. Violence against women is also a significant problem.
- In September, Parliament passed a constitutional amendment to extend parliamentarians’ terms by seven months, until 2024. The prime minister justified the delay by claiming the financial burden of holding national elections and the Pacific Games in the same year was too high. An offer from the Australian government to help fund the upcoming elections was rejected weeks before the amendment was passed, condemned by the prime minister as an attempt to interfere in the affairs of a sovereign state.
- In August, the government announced it would more directly control the Solomon Islands Broadcasting Corporation (SIBC). Staff at the station reported that the changes required a government representative vet all news programs before broadcast to protect citizens from “lies and misinformation.” Five days later, the government claimed no censors were vetting stories, despite reports to the contrary.
|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 seek the support of other members of Parliament with promises of cash or ministerial portfolios.
Following the 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 he had relaunched the Ownership, Unity, and Responsibility Party (OUR Party) too late, failing to meet the requirement that prime ministerial candidates maintain party membership. The High Court ruled Sogavare’s election lawful.
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 2019.
|Were the current national legislative representatives elected through free and fair elections?||3.003 4.004|
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 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 parliamentarians shifted to OUR Party—party-switching is a frequent practice among members of Parliament—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?||2.002 4.004|
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.
In September 2022, Parliament passed a constitutional amendment to delay the conclusion of parliamentarians’ terms by seven months, from 2023 to 2024. Prime Minister Sogavare justified the delay by claiming the financial burden of holding national elections and the Pacific Games in the same year was too high. Weeks before the amendment passed, Sogavare rejected an offer from the Australian government to help fund the upcoming elections, condemning it as an attempt to interfere in the affairs of a sovereign state.
Score Change: The score declined from 3 to 2 because the government’s parliamentary majority pushed through a constitutional amendment that arbitrarily postponed the next general elections from 2023 to 2024.
|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 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. Parliamentarians shifted their support to OUR Party days after the 2019 polls were held. In August 2022, OUR Party claimed 34 of the 50 members of Parliament.
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 2019 elections, calculating that doing so left them with greater flexibility under the legislation. Of the 333 candidates who took part in those polls, 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?||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. Sogavare survived a no-confidence vote in December 2021; Matthew Wale lodged the motion after riots took place in Honiara in late November of that year.
No incumbent prime minister has ever 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?||3.003 4.004|
People’s political choices are generally unconstrained, though church and tribal leaders exert strong influence in some areas.
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, had aimed to hold an independence referendum in 2022, though that did not occur and subsequent plans are unclear. Suidani’s key advisor, Celsus Irokwato Talifilu, raised concerns that Sogavare could deploy Chinese armed police to quell democratic dissent and remain in office. In December 2021, the organization Malaita for Democracy (M4D) was declared illegal, alleging that individuals linked to the group played a key role in the November riots of that year. In April 2022, the Solomon Islands government signed a security deal with China that reportedly allows deployment of Chinese security forces to quell disorder and to protect foreign-owned assets.
Beijing provides financial backing for the Rural Constituency Development Fund (RCDF), which is disbursed by Solomon Islands parliamentarians. In July 2022, government reports revealed that the RCDF had expended SBD$2.26 billion (US$272.3 million) between 2015 and 2022.
|Do various segments of the population (including ethnic, racial, 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. Only 4 seats out of 50 in Parliament were held by women in 2022.
|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 cabinet splits are frequent.
Critics have raised concerns that the Solomon Islands has increasingly aligned itself with the Chinese government after Prime Minister Sogavare switched diplomatic recognition from Taipei to Beijing in 2019, opening up opportunities for the Chinese government to influence policy decisions.
|Are safeguards against official corruption strong and effective?||3.003 4.004|
Corruption and abuse of office are serious problems. The Hou government secured passage of the Anti-Corruption Act, which established an independent anticorruption commission, and the Whistleblowers Protection Act. Some opposition members of Parliament considered the laws ineffective, as they allowed the use of local custom as a defense in corruption cases and restricted retroactive application.
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 between 2020 and 2022, and the Solomon Islands Independent Commission Against Corruption (SIICAC) has been slow to commence operations, though efforts began to accelerate in the final months of 2022.
|Does the government operate with openness and transparency?||1.001 4.004|
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 2019 elections voiced concern over the possible misuse of the RCDF ahead of the campaign.
In March 2022, Transparency Solomon Islands chief executive Ruth Liloqula condemned the decision to sign a security agreement with China for having been taken without sufficient public consultation. Sogavare was particularly furious about the March 2022 leaking of the draft security agreement with China, calling those responsible “lunatics” and “agents of foreign regimes.”
Local journalists report increasing secrecy among officials and difficulties in obtaining information from government ministries.
|Are there free and independent media?||2.002 4.004|
Press freedom has usually been respected, but the Sogavare government has taken steps to exert significantly greater control over the media. There are several print newspapers. Subscription television services offer some local content in addition to foreign broadcasts. The government operates a national radio station, and subnational and private radio stations are also available.
On August 3, 2022, the government announced that it would be taking more direct control over the Solomon Islands Broadcasting Corporation (SIBC). Staff at SIBC reported that the policy change required a government representative to vet all news programs before broadcast to protect citizens from “lies and misinformation.” Five days later, the government claimed that no censors were vetting stories, though they had pushed SIBC editorial decision-makers to “balance” their stories. The prime minister’s office defended the move on the grounds that the SIBC is a state-owned entity and thus should be managed by the state.
Later in August, the government threatened to ban foreign journalists following an Australian Broadcasting Corporation (ABC) investigative documentary into the Solomon Islands relationship with the Chinese government.
Score Change: The score declined from 4 to 2 because the government asserted greater financial and editorial control over the public broadcaster and threatened to prevent critical foreign journalists from entering the country.
|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 topics including domestic violence, rape, and child abuse, individuals have historically been free to express their views on politics and other sensitive matters.
|Is there freedom of assembly?||3.003 4.004|
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 2021, reportedly after Sogavare declined to meet with antigovernment demonstrators. Buildings in the city’s eastern areas and in Chinatown were damaged and destroyed, and four people were killed during the unrest. Peacekeepers were sent by Australia, New Zealand, and Papua New Guinea at Sogavare’s request.
|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) 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?||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. Though the country’s main labor union, the Solomon Islands National Union of Workers, was disbanded by court order in 2013, activists registered a new entity in 2014, the Workers Union of Solomon Islands (WUSI).
|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.
|Does due process prevail in civil and criminal matters?||2.002 4.004|
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?||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.
The police force, which was disarmed in 2003, has been entirely rebuilt with the help of the Australian-led Regional Assistance Mission to the Solomon Islands (RAMSI), which launched that year. Mostyn Mangau became the first locally appointed police commissioner in 19 years when he took the post in 2020.
In the wake of the November 2021 riots, Chinese police were deployed in March 2022 to train Solomon Islands police officers in combat skills and emergency crowd management. The unpublished security agreement reached with China in April 2022 reportedly allows for the deployment of Chinese armed police to help control disturbances in the country and protect foreign-owned capital assets.
|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’ 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?||3.003 4.004|
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 also 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?||3.003 4.004|
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?||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. 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?||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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