Freedom in the World
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Freedom in the World Scores
Political rights and civil liberties are generally respected in the Solomon Islands, though corruption remains a serious issue, and the government does not operate with openness and transparency. Violence against women is a significant problem.
Key Developments in 2017:
- Investigations by the anticorruption body Task Force Janus led to a number of high-profile arrests.
- Prime Minister Manasseh Sogavare was ousted in a no-confidence vote in November, and replaced by former central bank governor Rick Hou.
- The Australian-led Regional Assistance Mission to the Solomon Islands (RAMSI), which was deployed in the aftermath of a violent conflict in 1999–2000, concluded its mission, and most associated officials had left the islands by year’s end.
POLITICAL RIGHTS: 28 / 40 (+1)
A. ELECTORAL PROCESS: 9 / 12
A1. Was the current head of government or other chief national authority elected through free and fair elections? 3 / 4
Members of the 50-seat unicameral National Parliament elect the Solomon Islands prime minister, who is the head of government. Irregularities are frequent in the run-up to prime ministerial elections, known as the “second election.” 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.
A boat used to transport legislators to and from a neighboring island (to prevent defections) ahead of the 2014 prime ministerial vote was fired upon by unknown assailants, in an apparent effort to disrupt the second election. The MPs nevertheless were able to travel on the vessel to parliament, and participate in the election; Manasseh Sogavare won the vote.
In November 2017, Sogavare was ousted in a no-confidence vote. However, the opposition failed to hold together to elect an alternative leader. Instead, a group of opposition members crossed the floor to team up with Sogavare, and elected Rick Hou, a former central bank governor and World Bank employee, as the country’s new prime minister.
The National Parliament also selects a governor general for a five-year term. He represents the British monarch as head of state and appoints the cabinet on the advice of the prime minister. In 2014, Frank Kabui won a second term as governor general.
A2. Were the current national legislative representatives elected through free and fair elections? 3 / 4
The 50 members of the National Parliament are directly elected in single-seat constituencies by simple majority vote to serve 4-year terms. The parliamentary elections in 2014 were considered a significant improvement over previous elections. Independent candidates dominated the voting, taking a record 32 seats. The Democratic Alliance Party won 7, followed by the United Democratic Party with 5, the People’s Alliance Party with 3, and three smaller parties with 1 each. A Commonwealth observer mission concluded that “the election was credible and the results reflected the wishes of the people.”
A3. Are the electoral laws and framework fair, and are they implemented impartially by the relevant election management bodies? 3 / 4
Electoral rolls are much improved in Solomon Islands since the introduction in late 2013 of a biometric voter registration system, which reduced the previous practice whereby many Honiara voters were registered twice, both in their urban residence and on their home islands. In 2014, the Solomon Islands Electoral Commission (SIEC) said it had identified about 5,000 instances of multiple registration; these were referred to police, who said that their limited resources would make the issue difficult to address. The introduction of a single ballot box system has also diminished incidents of electoral corruption and fraud.
B. POLITICAL PLURALISM AND PARTICIPATION: 13 / 16
B1. 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 / 4
There are no restrictions on rights to organize political parties, but 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. In 2014, Parliament approved a Political Parties Integrity Act with the aim of encouraging a stronger party system through more formalized registration mechanisms. Many formerly party-aligned legislators responded by standing as independents in 2014 (including the prime minister), calculating that doing so left them with greater flexibility under the new law.
B2. Is there a realistic opportunity for the opposition to increase its support or gain power through elections? 4 / 4
Opposition parties and candidates may campaign freely, and power shifts frequently between 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 able to return to the prime minister’s office after a period on the opposition benches.
B3. Are the people’s political choices free from domination by the military, foreign powers, religious hierarchies, economic oligarchies, or any other powerful group that is not democratically accountable? 2 / 4
Political choices are generally unconstrained, but in some regions of the country church or tribal leaders exert strong influence. On the island of New Georgia, the Christian Fellowship Church secured reelection of its candidate, Job Dudley Tausinga, for decades, but schisms have since emerged on that island.
B4. Do various segments of the population (including ethnic, religious, gender, LGBT, and other relevant groups) have full political rights and electoral opportunities? 3 / 4
Discrimination limits economic and political opportunities for women, and just one woman won a seat in the 2014 elections. Many lawmakers have voiced support for increasing women’s participation in the National Parliament, including through reserved seats for women.
C. FUNCTIONING OF GOVERNMENT: 6 / 12 (+1)
C1. Do the freely elected head of government and national legislative representatives determine the policies of the government? 2 / 4
Solomon Islands governments have been able to determine national policy, but the islands’ fractious politics hamper efficient policymaking. Prime ministers have struggled to sustain control of fractious coalitions, and splits within cabinet are frequent. Ministries are often run as ministers’ personal fiefdoms, and are not accountable to the prime minister. The exigencies of survival often lead prime ministers to abandon a focus on their policy agenda. Ministers often defect to the opposition where there is a strong possibility of forming an alternative government.
Former prime minister Manasseh Sogavare left the annual summit of the Pacific Islands Forum in Samoa early in September 2017, to return home in response to political maneuvering aimed at removing him from office. Sogavare was ultimately ousted in November and replaced by Rick Hou.
C2. Are safeguards against official corruption strong and effective? 3 / 4 (+1)
Corruption and abuse of office are serious problems, and Sogavare in 2016 and 2017 struggled to win support for anticorruption legislation, largely due to resistance from within his government. However, in the meantime, a number of senior officials have been investigated or arrested in connection with corruption charges due to the efforts of Task Force Janus, a joint anticorruption effort by the police force and Finance Ministry established in 2016. Among those who faces charges under the effort are Permanent Secretary of the Ministry of Infrastructure Development Henry Murray, and permanent secretary of the Ministry of Police Edmond Sikua.
The change of government in November 2017 brought many MPs who supported anticorruption laws into the government.
Score Change: The score improved from 2 to 3 due to an anticorruption drive that has resulted in the arrest of a number of officials on corruption charges.
C3. Does the government operate with openness and transparency? 1 / 4
Successive governments in Solomon Islands do not operate transparently. Dealings with Asian logging companies are not open to scrutiny. Efforts to improve accountability of funds spent by MPs in their constituencies have not been greatly successful. There is no law stipulating a formal process by which members of the public may request public information.
CIVIL LIBERTIES: 44 / 60
D. FREEDOM OF EXPRESSION AND BELIEF: 14 / 16
D1. Are there free and independent media? 3 / 4
Freedom of the press is usually respected, but politicians and elites sometimes use legal and extralegal means to intimidate journalists. 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.
D2. Are individuals free to practice and express their religious faith or nonbelief in public and private? 4 / 4
Freedom of religion is generally respected.
D3. Is there academic freedom, and is the educational system free from extensive political indoctrination? 4 / 4
Academic freedom is generally respected.
D4. Are individuals free to express their personal views on political or other sensitive topics without fear of surveillance or retribution? 3 / 4
While private discussion is generally unrestricted, taboos persist regarding the open discussion of some topics, including domestic violence, rape, and child abuse.
E. ASSOCIATIONAL AND ORGANIZATIONAL RIGHTS: 9 / 12
E1. Is there freedom of assembly? 3 / 4
The constitution guarantees freedom of assembly, and the government generally upholds this right in practice. However, peaceful demonstrations can give way to civil unrest, particularly during contentions parliamentary debate or large-scale labor actions.
E2. Is there freedom for nongovernmental organizations, particularly those that are engaged in human rights– and governance-related work? 3 / 4
There are no constraints on nongovernment organizations (NGOs). However, many groups operate informally, and the government is not always receptive to the viewpoints of governance-focused groups. Locally based NGOs often lack resources, and there are reports that many such groups adopt platforms designed to win money from international donors, and that as a result, local knowledge bases are neglected.
E3. Is there freedom for trade unions and similar professional or labor organizations? 3 / 4
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 late 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.
F. RULE OF LAW: 9 / 16
F1. Is there an independent judiciary? 3 / 4
The judiciary has a reputation for independence, though it is badly underresourced, and case backlogs persist. The Court of Appeal is mainly reliant on foreign judges.
F2. Does due process prevail in civil and criminal matters? 2 / 4
Deficiencies in due process are somewhat common, but are mainly a result of limited resources and capacity constraints. Due to case backlogs, the country’s prisons house many inmates on remand awaiting trial.
F3. Is there protection from the illegitimate use of physical force and freedom from war and insurgencies? 2 / 4
Rebuilding the police force has been the major focus of the Australian-led Regional Assistance Mission to the Solomon Islands (RAMSI), which was initially established in 2003 to maintain peace between the country’s two dominant ethnic groups, the Gwale and Malaitans, following a conflict. The local police force was disarmed in 2003, and its paramilitary unit, the Police Field Force (which had participated in a coup in June 2000) was disbanded. Some two thirds of the police officers serving in the Royal Solomon Islands Police Force 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 Solomon Islands police force. RAMSI concluded its mission in the Solomon Islands in 2017, and almost all of its associated officials had left the islands by year’s end.
F4. Do laws, policies, and practices guarantee equal treatment of various segments of the population? 2 / 4
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 limits economic opportunities for women.
The Guadalcanal Plains Palm Oil (GPPOL) operation on northern Guadalcanal, one of the country’s biggest employers, avoids employing Malaitan labor, even on a casual basis picking loose fruit, for fear of antagonizing local Guadalcanal communities.
G. PERSONAL AUTONOMY AND INDIVIDUAL RIGHTS: 12 / 16
G1. Do individuals enjoy freedom of movement, including the ability to change their place of residence, employment, or education? 3 / 4
Informal impediments on freedom of movement exist, particularly in rural Guadalcanal in areas where people from the island of Malaita were expelled during the unrest in 1999–2000. Hostility to Malaitan settlement persists also in parts of the Western Province.
G2. Are individuals able to exercise the right to own property and establish private businesses without undue interference from state or nonstate actors? 3 / 4
Property rights are frequently contested. GPPOL has had its administrative buildings attacked on several occasions. Logging concession have been contested by local groups, as have tourism operations.
G3. Do individuals enjoy personal social freedoms, including choice of marriage partner and size of family, protection from domestic violence, and control over appearance? 3 / 4
Domestic violence is a serious problem in Solomon Islands. A new Family Protection Act, formally criminalizing domestic violence and enabling victims to apply for protection orders, has been implemented, and police have received training on how to interact with victims and handle cases. However, domestic violence and rape are underrreported, and there is a reluctance among many victims who do report it to take cases to court.
G4. Do individuals enjoy equality of opportunity and freedom from economic exploitation? 3 / 4
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. Authorities have taken efforts to update antitrafficking laws in recent years.