By-elections in Solomon Islands

I thought it would be interesting to review past by-elections in Solomons in the wake of Friday’s High Court decision regarding the by-election in Savo and Russells in October last year (see previous post).

Note (15/05/10): I have made some minor revisions to the data discussed in this post. The updates are available here.

The last two Parliaments have seen an unusually large number of vacancies and by-elections. Indeed, of the 28 vacancies that I am aware of since self-government, 12 of them (over 40%) have occurred in the last two terms (see table below).

The main reasons for these by-elections and vacancies were that the incumbent had resigned, died or received a jail sentence of six months or more (and thus had to vacate their seats under Section 51 of the Constitution). Between 1973 and 2010, there were at least:

  • eight resignations (including two cases where the incumbent was appointed Speaker or Governor General),
  • seven deaths in office (including one assassination), and
  • six cases where an MP received a jail sentence of six months or more.

There were two instances where the outcome at a national election was successfully petitioned (Gao-Bugotu after the 2001 election and East Honiara after the 1993 election). There are three other cases where I have been unable to ascertain the reason for the by-election (can anyone help me here?).

I should also note that not all vacancies have resulted in by-elections – during the 2001-06 Parliament there were two seats (Small Malaita and West Kwara’ae) that became vacant but were not filled until the next election. It is possible that this may also have occurred in the seat of North Guadalcanal during the 1980-84 Parliament.

Why so many vacancies recently?

The main reason for the many vacancies in the last two parliaments is that six parliamentarians have received jail sentences of six months or more. As far as I am aware, no MP had been removed in this way before 2004. The other major reason is that there were four deaths in office.

This grim news has created plenty of work for the Solomon Islands Electoral Commission. Despite the significant problems with the by-election in Savo and Russells, it otherwise deserves credit for managing to successful conduct five other by-elections in 2008 and 2009. Hopefully this experience and the voter registration process that is currently underway will ensure that the Electoral Commission will be well prepared for the upcoming National Election.

Table: by-elections and vacancies, 1973-2010

The table below (and also available in a Word doc here) lists all the by-elections and vacancies that I’m aware of. If anyone has any corrections or additional details, I’d be glad to hear them.

Also, note that I have still recorded Allan Kemakeza as the “incoming member” for most recent by-election in Savo and Russells however I assume that this should be revised to “vacant” in the light of the High Court’s decision.

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