- Politics and State Building in Solomon Islands
The selection of a new prime minister in Solomon Islands on 18 April 2006 should have been a routine exercise. It came after the seventh national elections since independence and was the final stage in an electoral process that was, by then, very well established. The Australian-led Regional Assistance Mission to Solomon Islands (RAMSI) was still in the country and, after nearly three years, had restored law and order and made a lot of progress in reviving government services following the serious breakdown that took place during the "ethnic tension" from 1998 to 2003. By 2006, no one was expecting anything other than a properly constituted transfer of power. Ultimately that did happen, but not in the way anticipated and not before the most serious and destructive riots in Solomon Islands history.
The riots broke out when it was announced to the crowd waiting outside Parliament House that the new prime minister was Snyder Rini, a returning member and former deputy prime minister in the out going Kemakeza government. There had been a strong mood for change at the election, and disbelief when the old government was reinstated. That night and on the following day Honiara was set ablaze as rioting continued out of control. The main target was property owned by ethnic Chinese; Chinatown was almost completely destroyed and numerous other businesses and homes were attacked and burned. It was not until reinforcements were brought in from Australia, New Zealand, and Fiji that order was restored. Rini faced a motion of no confidence at the first sitting of Parliament, and he resigned before that could take place. Another prime ministerial ballot was held, and this time, one of Rini's opponents, Manasseh Sogavare, was successful. He also happened to be a fierce critic of RAMSI.
This book is one of the first to try to provide some explanation for the riots in 2006. It arises out of a conference that was called soon afterwards, in Canberra on 5 May 2006, by the State Society and Governance in Melanesia program and the Pacific Centre of the Australian National University. The authors of the book's ten chapters come from within and outside Solomon Islands. Most of them are [End Page 397] longtime observers of Solomon Island politics and were either recent visitors to the country or in the country when the rioting took place.
After Sinclair Dinnen's introductory chapter, which lays out the book's larger theme of the long-term process of state and nation building, the best chapters are those that concentrate specifically on the 2006 election and its destructive aftermath. They are, for the most part, highly critical of the direction taken by national elections and, in particular, by what contributor Jon Fraenkel describes as a "deeply flawed prime ministerial selection process" (175). The trends are, by now, well established: a proliferation of candidates standing for election; a first-past-the-post system that allows candidates to win seats with relatively small percentages of the vote; weak political parties; a high number of independents with fluid allegiances; and poor outcomes for women standing for election. In addition there is widespread and pervasive corruption, now infesting every level of politics and every stage of the political process. This book leaves little doubt that politics in Solomon Islands is so deeply corrupt and heavily compromised that the wider electorate is being deceived and betrayed by the political elite as they scramble for the spoils being offered to them. The worst corruption is that connected to the two largest export industries, logging and fishing. Updating the accumulating evidence on this in their chapters, Clive Moore and Transform Aqorau link it much more closely to relatively recent Asian interests than to the older, more established...