Freedom in the World
General elections held in August 2010 were deemed largely free and fair by international observers, despite incidents of ballot burning and violence in some districts. Danny Philip, a veteran politician, was chosen as the new prime minister. In March, the Truth and Reconciliation Commission began its first hearings related to the 1998–2003 ethnic war. While Philips advocated pardoning crimes committed during the conflict, including murder, the opposition rejected broad forgiveness.
The Solomon Islands gained independence from Britain in 1978. Tensions between the two largest ethnic groups—the local Gwale people and the Malaitans—over jobs and land rights erupted into open warfare in 1998. Scores were injured or killed before peace was gradually restored through the 2000 Townsville Peace Agreement, brokered by Australia and New Zealand. Order was initially maintained by a UN mission and after 2003 by the Australian-led Regional Assistance Mission to the Solomon Islands (RAMSI), which has continued to maintain a presence in the country.
In December 2007, Derek Sikua was elected prime minister and made political stability and national reconciliation priorities of his government. A Truth and Reconciliation Commission, modeled after South Africa’s, was launched in 2009to investigate crimes and address impunity connected to the 1998–2003 ethnic war. In March 2010, the commission began its first hearings, during which witnesses told stories of threats, torture, death, and loss of homes. While Prime Minister Danny Philip advocates pardoning crimes committed during the unrest, including murder, the opposition objects to such broad forgiveness.
In the August 2010 general elections, a total of 509 candidates, including 25 women, from 14 parties competed for 50 parliamentary seats. The main campaign issues were control over the Rural Constituency Development Fund (RCDF), which critics say legislators abuse for private gain, and whether to continue formal ties with Taiwan or switch allegiance to China to maximize economic benefits. Independents won 19 seats, the Solomon Islands Democratic Party (SIDP) claimed 13, the Reform Democratic Party (RDP) and the Ownership, Unity, and Responsibility Party each took 3, and smaller parties captured the remainder. Approximately 100 international observers and police officers monitored the elections and maintained order. As is common in the Solomon Islands, new parties formed before the elections and disbanded afterward; legislators aligned themselves with these parties, but the groupings were fluid. RDP leader Danny Philip was chosen as the new prime minister, narrowly defeating SIDP leader Steve Abana.Philip, who served in parliament from 1994 to 2001, confirmed the country’s ties with Taiwan and pledged to work with RAMSI, fight corruption, and promote gender equality and development.
The elections were deemed generally free and fair by international observers, though a few incidences of violence were reported. Ballots were destroyed and fighting broke out among supporters of competing candidates in some districts, and one person was killed by a warning shot fired by a Tongan soldier with RAMSI during a riot.
In November 2010, Jimmy Lusibaea, a leader of the Malaita Eagle Force—a militant group active during the civil war—was sentenced to two years and nine months in prison for attempted murder, assault on police, and discharging firearms in a public place during an incident in 2002. Lusibaea was elected to the parliament in August to represent the north Malaita district and had been appointed minister of fisheries in the new government, though he will lose his seat if his appeal fails. Riots broke out in the capital when the sentence was announced, leading to 37 arrests.
Political Rights and Civil Liberties:
The Solomon Islands are not an electoral democracy. A governor general, appointed on the advice of the National Parliament for a five-year term, represents the British monarch as head of state. Members of the 50-seat, unicameral National Parliament are elected for four-year terms. A parliamentary majority elects the prime minister, and the governor-general appoints the cabinet on the advice of the prime minister.
While several political parties operate, political activity is driven more by personalities and clan identities than party affiliation. Also, shifting alliances within the parliament remain a source of political instability.
Rampant corruption at all levels of government is a major source of public discontent and hinders economic development. In 2008, a new ombudsman was appointed to investigate alleged government abuses and an anti-corruption taskforce was launched to develop a national anticorruption policy. In March 2010, the Leadership Code Commission—tasked with addressing official abuse and corruption according to the 1999 Leadership Code—stated that only half of some 800 government leaders had submitted statements declaring their assets and financial interests. In April, a group of citizens in Guadalcanal sued their representative in an effort to determine how he was spending $1.2 million worth of constituent funds annually. In October, Prime Minister Danny Philip suspended the Commission on Inquiry into Land Dealings in Guadalcanal in order to investigate allegations of serious corruption within the commission. The country was ranked 110 out of 178 countries in Transparency International’s 2010 Corruption Perceptions Index.
Freedoms of expression and the press are generally respected, but politicians and elites sometimes use legal and extralegal means to intimidate journalists. The print media include a privately-owned daily, a weekly, and two monthly publications. The government operates the only radio station. There is no local television station, but foreign broadcasts can be received via satellite. Internet penetration is low, mainly due to technical and cost barriers. Telecommunications are privately owned and operated. In December 2010, the government called for a third mobile telephony operator to increase competition.
Freedom of religion is generally respected. Academic freedom is observed, but a lack of public funds severely undermines the quality of education. In January 2010, the government introduced a free basic education policy to increase school enrollment.
The constitution guarantees freedom of assembly, and the government generally recognizes this right. Organizers of demonstrations must obtain permits, which are typically granted. Civil society groups operate without interference. Workers are free to organize, and strikes are permitted.
Threats against judges and prosecutors have weakened the independence and rigor of the judicial system. Judges and prosecutors have also been implicated in scandals relating to corruption and abuse of power. A lack of resources limits the government’s ability to provide legal counsel and timely trials. The ombudsman’s office has far-reaching powers to investigate complaints of official abuse and unfair treatment, but generally lacks the funds to do so.
There is no military. Domestic security and law enforcement are provided by a civilian-controlled police force of about 1,000 people, but poor training, widespread abuse of power, and factional and ethnic rivalries have undermined public trust in the service.
Anti-Chinese sentiment had grown in reaction to their perceived economic dominance and influence over politicians. Discrimination limits the economic and political roles of women, who won no seats in parliament in the 2010 elections. Rape and other forms of abuse against women and girls are widespread. While rape is illegal, no law prohibits domestic violence.