Solomon Islands Announces General Election Results

Former Solomon Islands Prime Minister Manasseh Sogavare shakes hands with Taiwanese President Tsai Ing-wen in Taipei in 2017. (Wikimedia Commons)

Former Solomon Islands Prime Minister Manasseh Sogavare shakes hands with Taiwanese President Tsai Ing-wen in Taipei in 2017. (Wikimedia Commons)

Following nationwide general elections on April 3, the Solomon Islands Electoral Commission (SIEC) posted the verified vote count for each of the archipelago’s 50 constituencies on its Facebook page on April 7. Alongside these figures, the commission also shared Connect News’ live videos of Chief Electoral Officer Mose Saitala announcing the name of each newly elected or re-elected National Parliament member.

As the Australian Broadcasting Corporation noted, the 2019 elections were the first to take place since the Australian-led Regional Assistance Mission to Solomon Islands (RAMSI) officially concluded in 2017.

According to the Nautilus Institute, the $2.6 billion peacekeeping program first launched in 2003 in response to a formal request for assistance from Solomon Islands then-Governor-General John Lapli, who was writing on the behalf of Prime Minister Allan Kemakeza and his Cabinet.

The mission, also known as Operation Helpem Fren (“Help a Friend” in Solomon Islands Pidgin), aimed to address the country’s growing problems of ethnic violence, crime and extortion, and government destabilization, according to Voice of America.

For the election, Australia also sent 200 defensive troops to assist 1,600 local police officers in monitoring the polls. Four Australian military helicopters helped distribute ballots to voters living in remote regions of the archipelago.

Other major logistical concerns arose in the capital, Honiara, as a consequence of the election’s narrow one-day voting timeframe, ABC News noted. At the wharf, police officers struggled to prevent ferries from becoming overcrowded as tens of thousands of people prepared to travel to their rural home constituencies. Moreover, many key healthcare staff took leave from work on April 3 to vote, forcing Honiara’s National Referral Hospital to partially shut down. Due to limited personnel, the hospital had to cancel elective surgeries, and it could only provide emergency services.

Some critiqued the government for not taking steps to ensure that hospitals and other essential services would remain functional on Election Day. “To my knowledge, I think the police and other areas were allowed to pre-vote using an electronic voting system, and they should extend this to the health sector,” said Dr. Claude Posala, president of the Solomon Islands Medical Association.

According to Radio New Zealand, 37 members of the newest National Parliament, approximately three-fourths of the body, are incumbents. This includes Prime Minister Rick Hou, as well as the only two female members, Lanelle Tanangada and Freda Soriacomua.

Although eight parties are represented in the National Parliament, Radio New Zealand noted that no party has achieved majority rule. The parties with the most seats, the Kadere Party and Democratic Party, each have only eight members.

Currently, the 21 members who ran as independent make up the largest faction, but Radio New Zealand reported the balance of power may shift as the largest parties engage in the tradition of setting up impromptu headquarters in local hotels. Each party competes to build a majority coalition of at least 26 members by recruiting independent and smaller party “grasshoppers” with offers of important ministerial and board chairman positions, as well as money.

The Solomon Islands Broadcasting Corporation reported that the Democratic Party currently leads the larger Heritage Hotel coalition, while the Kadere Party leads the rivaling Honiara Hotel coalition.

According to ABC News and Solomon Times, once a coalition has a majority and an agreement is signed, National Parliament members will elect a prime minister by secret ballot.

The election caught multinational public attention for its important geopolitical implications, notes the South China Morning Post. Solomon Islands is the largest of the six Pacific Islands to currently recognize Taiwan, but some politicians have mentioned plans to review diplomatic relations and consider switching recognition to Beijing, the market for two-thirds of its exports.

In a recent effort to bolster Taiwan’s South Pacific alliances, the deputy foreign minister visited Honiara in March, and President Tsai Ing-wen also embarked on an eight-day trip to Palau, Nauru, and the Marshall Islands.