- Solomon Islands
By the end of 2005 much of the public discussion in Solomon Islands focused on the general election scheduled for 5 April 2006. Many people hoped that this election would bring in leaders who would steer the country away from the path it had followed in the last twenty-seven years of constitutional independence. Many were convinced that poor leadership [End Page 423] and government policies had contributed to the social unrest and the subsequent intervention by the Australian-led Regional Assistance Mission to Solomon Islands (RAMSI) in July 2003.
Governor of the Central Bank Rick Hou echoed many people's sentiments when he said that voters should "elect honest, trustworthy and leaders of integrity . . . who can contribute positively to the welfare of the people and the country so that we can enjoy a stable landscape" (Solomon Star, 14 Dec 2005). But while people hoped for the best from this election, past experiences indicate that one should never bet on a favorable election outcome. For one thing, the election will be contested under the same electoral and political party systems used in thepast. Second, the predominant political culture, which places enormous social and financial demands oncandidates, will continue to influence both the election process and its outcome. Unless these change, it is difficult to see how this election will be different from previous ones.
The election aside, and like the previous year, 2005 was dominated by the continuing struggle to recover from the social unrest that started in late 1998 and has since dominated Solomon Islands political, social, and economic landscapes. Central to the recovery process was the work of the Regional Assistance Mission and other institutions engaged in strengthening the state's capacity to restore and maintain law and order, manage the economy, and provide social services. Cohorts of nongovernmental organizations, foreign governments, and financial and intergovernmental institutions joined RAMSI in the task of post-conflict rebuilding. While these institutions usually captured the media limelight, there were also many local communities and individuals who—even before the RAMSI intervention—had been working to restore order in communities across the country and rebuild relationships damaged by the social unrest. These people continued to contribute to the post-conflict rebuilding processes.
The year started on a high foreign-relations note with the historic visit in early February of Taiwanese President Chen Shui-bian. He was accompanied by a huge delegation that consisted of sixty-nine "high-ranking" government officials and more than forty media personnel. President Shuibian's [End Page 424] visit marked a milestone in Solomon Islands–Taiwanese relations and highlighted Solomon Islands' importance in Taiwan's push for international recognition. The Honiara visit was part of President Shui-bian's Pacific Islands tour, aimed at improving Taiwan's profile and recognition in the international arena. With mainland China's rapid economic growth and growing importance as a global power, it was vital for Taiwan to ensure that Pacific Island countries like Solomon Islands were kept under its diplomatic wings.
The Solomon Islands government gave President Shui-bian the highest diplomatic treatment, rolling out the red carpet in the humid afternoon sun on 29 January, and then according him the honor of addressing the Solomon Islands National Parliament on 31 January. Governor-General Sir Nathaniel Waena hailed Taiwan as "the only helper in Solomon Islands' dark days" (Solomon Star, 1 Feb 2005). In response, President Shui-bian called Solomon Islands "Taiwan's most loyal ally in the Pacific" (Solomon Star, 1 Feb 2005).
Taiwan's relations with Solomon Islands has captured much interest over the years, especially in relation to what is often described as Taiwan's "checkbook diplomacy." More serious were allegations that Taiwanese money had been used to buy and maintain patron-client relationships indomestic politics. Although no one has offered substantial evidence to prove this, it is clear that prior to the RAMSI intervention Taiwanese money was used to pay "compensation" to armed groups and individuals, fueling the extortion of the state and the maintenance of relationships between some government officials and armed citizens.
The debate surrounding Taiwanese money came to the fore in the lead-up to the 2006 election...