Prime Ministers of Solomon Islands

Election time is always a worrying time for sitting Prime Ministers. If the current PM, Dr Derek Sikua, looks to history for a guide to the future, he will find that it has both good and bad news.

The good news is that no sitting Prime Minister (or Chief Minister) has lost his seat. In fact, only nine people have served as PM and five of them are still in Parliament today. Of the others, Peter Kenilorea resigned from Parliament in 1991 to head up the Forum Fisheries Agency, Solomon Mamaloni and Bartholomew Ulufa’alu were both still MPs when they passed away (in 2000 and 2007, respectively). Only Ezekiel Alebua was eventually voted out – he was PM from 1986-89 and was defeated by the current member for East Guadalcanal, Johnson Koli, in the 1997 election.

The bad news is that although history suggests that the PM will retain his seat of North-East Guadalcanal, it also implies that he is unlikely to retain the top job. Only Peter Kenilorea has successfully retained the prime ministership after an election (in 1980). Since then, there have been six elections and each has resulted in a change of Prime Minister. Indeed, of the 13 changes of leader, seven were due to elections and four were due to motions of no confidence. The remaining two changes were due to the coup against Bart Ulufa’alu in June 2000 and Kenilorea’s resignation in December 1986 in response to allegations of misuse of rehabilitation funds in the wake of Cyclone Namu (in his recent autobiography (2008, pp.271-85), Kenilorea details the allegations and argues strenuously that there was no misconduct).

Table: Prime Ministers & Chief Ministers of Solomons, 1974-2010

* Mamaloni (1974-76) and Kenilorea (1976-78) served as Chief Minister.
Source: Kenilorea 2008, Tell it as it is, pp.489-90.

An average PM?

If we assume, for the sake of argument, that the historical pattern continues and Prime Minister Sikua is replaced after the election, he will have served for about 2.5 years. As it happens, this is almost exactly the average term of office for Prime Ministers (and Chief Ministers) since Solomon Mamaloni first became Chief Minister on 28 August 1974. To be precise, the average Prime Ministerial term is two years and seven months.

(Note that, for the purpose of this calculation, I have treated Kenilorea’s two periods of office from 1976-78 and 1978-81 as a single term from 1976-81 because the two terms are only separated by the announcement of Solomons independence, which is not relevant to how long leaders have held office.)

Chart: Prime Ministers & Chief Ministers of Solomons, 1974-2010

* The calculation of the ‘average term’ treats Kenilorea’s two periods of office from 1976-78 and 1978-81 as a single term.

The chart illustrates the domination of Solomons politics by the two leaders from the self-government period: Solomon Mamaloni and Peter Kenilorea. Mamaloni served four terms as leader for a total of almost 12 years whilst Peter Kenilorea served for more than seven years during his two terms in office. Together they have served more than half of the period since 1974. The next longest serving leader is Allan Kemakeza, who was the third leader to serve a full four-year term in office.

Although Kemakeza was the third leader to serve a full term in office, his government is often reported to have been the first to serve a full four-year term in office. Technically, this is correct, although I think that in the case of Kenilorea’s first government, this is largely a semantic point as he retained a very similar cabinet for the whole period from 1976 to 1980, notwithstanding the announcement of independence in the interim.

As for Mamaloni, although he remained PM for the entire period from 1989 to 1993, his People’s Alliance Party (PAP) government did not. In November 1990, he defected from the PAP, sacked five ministers, recruited five members of the opposition and formed the new Government for National Unity and Reconciliation (GNUR).

Not all PMs have fared as well as Mamaloni, Kenilorea and Kemakeza. The April 2006 riots ensured that Snyder Rini’s term was over in less than a fortnight and on three other occasions, the PM has served for less than 20 months (Billy Hilly, and Sogavare twice). It remains to be seen whether the leader(s) of the 9th Parliament replicate the success of Mamaloni, Kenilorea and Kemakeza or suffer the fate of Rini, Billy Hilly and Sogavare.

Note: the data used in this post is available here.

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3 Responses to “Prime Ministers of Solomon Islands”

  1. Roy Keleni Says:

    Harry,

    As a solomon Islander i find this analysis very useful.

    Hope we are building a future stable country.

    Regards
    Roy Keleni

    • Harry Greenwell Says:

      Hey Roy, thanks for the comment, it’s great to hear from you! It’s been a while (2 years) since I updated my blog but with elections coming in 2014, maybe I should get it started again. I’ll see if I have time. Bat iu save mi no lus tingting long Solo iet bro. Like you, I very much hope that the country achieves greater stability and prosperity. cheers, Harry G

      • Roy Keleni Says:

        Harry,

        Gud tumas to hear from you.

        Looking back since leaving Inland Revenue in 2006, there had been some improvements in the delivery of Government services, there is still a lot of room for improvement.

        As you know, securing a seat in parliament in this country very much depend on how well an MP had touched the lives of the voters with the CDF handouts and not how well an MP has performed as a legislator.

        The rural voters political street gossip is to a greater extent centered on the distribution of CDF and how much time an MP is willing to spend with the voters.

        An MP as a National leader is also “A Big man” where ones capabilities to give financial and material support is now accepted as one of the major attribute of a “quality”leader.

        Political stability is therefore, still a major challenge for Solomon Islands where Politicians had to balance their state duties with their efforts to retain their seat risking their health and family’s wellbeing.

        I hope one day this country will judge leaders by their contributions and performance as legislators whose output will be improvement in delivery of much needed services in the rural area.

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