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Tuesday 22 Aug 2017 | 15:51 | SYDNEY
Tuesday 22 Aug 2017 | 15:51 | SYDNEY

Challenges in Honiara

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1 October 2008 14:12

I spent last week in Solomon Islands hosting a conference with Prime Minister Sikua’s office on the potential for legislative and other reform to engineer greater political stability.

Coincidentally, two by-elections were held the day before the conference. The seat of East Honiara was made vacant by the jailing for fraud of controversial former Police Minister Charles Dausabea. The campaign for one of the 26 candidates for the East Honiara by-election – former Permanent Secretary of the Ministry of Health, Dr George Manimu – attracted my attention because of its boisterous parade through town on a red tractor (see my photo below). I was relieved to see that, unlike the last election campaign I witnessed in Solomon Islands in 2001, this one did not involve any weapons. 

Dr Manimu created some havoc after the election, though. He allegedly disrupted the counting process and demanded a stop to counting, claiming that the early lead in all polling stations of eventual winner, businessman and logger Silas Milikada, meant there were irregularities with the election. Counting was halted and the venue for counting changed to more secure premises. 

Manimu’s supporters were protesting rather angrily in the streets near my hotel while the count was still underway. I met a few of them at the office of the Solomon Islands Broadcasting Commission, demanding a forum to voice their concerns. I know they had also been to up to the Parliament building to protest. Similar allegations and protests about irregularities occurred in the other by-election in Lau-Mbaelelea in Malaita.

It has been four years since I was last in Solomon Islands and working for the Regional Assistance Mission. I think I had expected to see some more dramatic physical changes in Honiara, but the town looked much the same as when I left in mid 2004. A few building renovations, some new construction and the introduction of wireless internet were the main differences I noticed. 

What had not changed was the tendency of young men to take to the streets in anger rather than follow due legal process when their candidate did not win the support of the electorate. This caused me to wonder whether voters bear as much responsibility for political instability in Solomon Islands as do politicians and the structure of the political system.

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