- Solomon Islands
This has been a year of twisting tales in Solomon Islands’ political landscape. The country held its national general elections on 3 April. This was a significant election because it was the first under the new 2018 Electoral Act and the first since the Regional Assistance Mission to Solomon Islands (ramsi) concluded in 2017 (Wyeth 2019). But in a total of fifty constituencies, of the 48 incumbents who re-contested their seats, only 13 were unsuccessful. One explanation for this was the amount of constituency development funds that the incumbent mps had access to prior to polling day (Baker 2019). There were allegations of cross-border registrations and vote buying that influenced the election results (Hawkins 2020; see also Batley and others 2019). Consequently, 28 out of the 50 mps who won their seats had petitions filed against them in the High Court (rnz 2019a).
The process of government formation after the April election was an interesting flashpoint. From the 50 elected mps, 8 represented the Solomon Islands Democratic Party, another 8 represented the Solomon Islands Kadere Party, 21 were independents, and the remaining 13 belonged to other minority parties (Gray 2019). [End Page 595] Manasseh Sogavare, in a shrewd move to set himself up for the position of prime minister (pm), relaunched the Ownership, Unity, and Responsibility Party (our Party) a week after the election. Part of this move involved rallying the independent mps to join our Party as lobbying for forming a coalition government intensified between two political camps, the Grand Coalition and the Democratic Coalition Government for Advancement (rnz 2019b). The Grand Coalition’s candidate was Matthew Wale, and the Democratic Coalition’s candidate was Sogavare. Sogavare was elected as prime minister with thirty-four votes.
The process of electing Sogavare as prime minister resulted in a court challenge by Wale, who claimed that the postelection formation of our Party and Sogavare’s nomination as a candidate for the prime minister post were inconsistent with the Political Parties Act 2014. He applied for a High Court injunction to stop the election, which was scheduled for 24 April, until the court gave a judgment on 26 April (Fraenkel 2019). However, the governor general, who received the court order just before he was scheduled to conduct the election, ruled that the election would proceed, basing his decision on the country’s constitution. Members of the Grand Coalition boycotted the election by walking out of Parliament, and Wale, on behalf of the Grand Coalition, filed a judicial review application challenging the governor-general’s decision (Solomon Times 2019b).
Section 83(1) of the Solomon Islands Constitution provides that, “Subject to . . . paragraph 10 of Schedule 2 (dealing with dispute relating to calling or conduct of pm election) to this Constitution, if a person alleges any provision of the Constitution has been contravened or his/her interest has been affected by such contravention . . . that person may apply to the High Court for a declaration.” Paragraph 10 of Schedule 2 stipulates that the governor-general has the power to determine a dispute concerning the election of the prime minister and that his or her determination is final and conclusive. Paragraph 11 of Schedule 2 further states that the governor-general’s function conferred by the Schedule “shall be exercised by him in his own deliberate judgment.” In its deliberation of Wale’s judicial review application, the High Court discussed these constitutional provisions and held that the governor acted lawfully when he decided to “proceed with the election of the pm” (High Court of Solomon Islands 2019).
The disputes over the election of Sogavare as prime minister triggered the eruption of violent protests in parts of Honiara. Outside Parliament, angry protesters condemned the election result and demanded that Sogavare step down (The Economist 2019). When their demand was not acknowledged and the police attempted to dismiss them, the protestors marched to Honiara’s Chinatown and the suburb of Kukum. In Chinatown, they shouted slogans and smashed up property just like they had done in 2006 (Dziedzic and Wasuka 2019). When the police, equipped with riot gear, “barred access to Chinatown and dispersed the crowds...