2010 election update

With the Solomon Islands election fast approaching, this post provides an overview of my election coverage and also commentary on some of the trends and contests. (Some additional details are available in my earlier election updates from 17 April and 29 June.)

I have published the full list of candidates for each province. Several contributors have added a considerable amount to the information I had gathered – please feel free to add comments with further info. Here are the posts for each province: Malaita, Guadalcanal, Western, Makira, Honiara, Choiseul, Temotu, Isabel, Central, Rennell Bellona

I have also published two lists: the female candidates that I’m aware of and an overview of the 19 political parties contesting the 2010 election.

Another heavily contested election

A record number of 509 candidates will contest the 4 August election, up from the previous record of 453 in 2006. This equates to an average of 10.2 candidates per seat in 2010, up from 9.0 per seat in 2006. There will also be a record number of political parties – at least 19, and up from the 16 or so that contested in 2006.

Different reports suggest that the number of female candidates is around 22 to 25, similar to the 26 in 2006 (but well above the numbers in earlier elections, see my earlier post on women in Solomons politics). In 2006, the largest number of female candidates (10) came from Malaita (now only 3); this time, there are at least 6 from Western (up from just 1). There are 3 female candidates in Guadalcanal whilst Isabel (3) and Honiara (4) remain well-contested by women.

There are likely to be fewer incumbents returned because three incumbents have retired from parliament (David Sitai, Rev Leslie Boseto and Laurie Chan) and the seat of East ‘Are ‘Are is vacant following the recent death of late Edward Huni’ehu. (Technically, Savo/Russells has also been vacant since a court ruling in early 2010 invalidated the 2009 by-election.) Silas Milikada has vacated the seat of East Honiara in order to challenge Snyder Rini in Marovo.

Interestingly, at least seven former MEF members or spokespeople are contesting seats in Malaita, several of whom have now been released from jail following Tension-related crimes. They are: Jimmy ‘Rasta’ Lusibaea, Leslie Kwaiga, James Kili, Simon Mani, Manasseh Maelanga, Alex Bartlett and Andrew Nori. It would be interesting to know if any former IFM/GRA members are contesting Guale seats – I’m not aware of any but that’s hardly conclusive.

A change in the political landscape?

Behind these record numbers in 2010, there is a bigger story, which is that the two most recent elections – 2006 and 2010 – mark a clear break with the political past. Both elections have been much more heavily contested than the six previous ones, both in terms of number of candidates and number of parties. Between 1980 and 2001, the average number of candidates per seat always remained between 6.0 and 6.8, substantially below the 2006 and 2010 levels. Similarly, the number of parties in recent elections is far higher than the 10 or less that contested in earlier elections.

What are the implications of this shift to more heavily contested elections? I can think of three.

First, in a first-past-the-post system, more heavily-contested elections mean that candidates will typically win with a smaller fraction of the vote (and probably with smaller margins). Indeed, in 2006, half of all the successful candidates won with less than 30% of the vote. In past elections, this fraction was more like one-third. I imagine that a low winning vote and a small victory margin might have some impact on the perceived legitimacy of an MP’s win, and might also increase the pressure on him/her to focus attention on the immediate needs of the constituency, rather than on national policy and legislation.

Second, parties are often used as vehicles for prime ministerial ambitions, so more parties may lead to more candidates for prime minister (both within rival camps and, to a lesser extent, on the floor of parliament). My recollection is that in April 2006, at least five MPs (including Tausinga and Sogavare) nominated to be the PM candidate for the IBS camp and I’m pretty sure that there were at least one or two candidates who contested Rini in the Honiara Hotel camp.

Finally, more parties may mean that that governments are increasingly formed through large coalitions with numerous parties, rather than with a small number of parties and numerous independents. This seems to have been the experience of the Eighth Parliament: the GCCG-Sogavare government had five coalition members (SoCred, Democratic, SIPRA, National, Liberal) and the CNURA-Sikua government had six (PAP, AIM, Liberal, SIPRA, Democratic and National). Such large coalitions are not unprecedented (both the SIAC-Ulufa’alu government and the NCP-Billy Hilly government were of a similar size) but perhaps they will become more common.

Why has this shift occurred? I can only speculate, but we can look for possible explanations in what has changed between 2001 and 2006. Most obviously, RAMSI arrived, the Tensions ended and to a large extent, law and order was restored. Perhaps the awful experience of the Tensions has made people more interested in the importance of good government. Or perhaps improved law and order has simply made it safer for people to contest election (at least compared to 2001)?

Another change since 2001 is the increase in the size of the RCDF and related payments such as the Micro-Project Fund and the Millennium Fund, which potentially make being an MP much more lucrative. Perhaps the change is partly due to economic factors – until the global financial crisis, the Solomons economy had been performing very well.

Perhaps more candidates feel they can afford the significant costs of running an election campaign (and perhaps some businesses have more interest in financing the election campaigns of supportive candidates or parties).

Finally, and less optimistically, perhaps the increased number of candidates is an indicator that there is greater dissatisfaction with incumbent MPs and with the performance of government. I’m not sure whether any of these explanations is plausible, and no doubt there are others that readers may think of.

Where are the heavy contests?

Three provinces – Western, Makira and Temotu – will be much more heavily contested in 2010.

In Western Province, three high-profile MPs will face stiff competition: Gordon Darcy Lilo is one of 14 contestants in Gizo/Kolombangara and both Snyder Rini and Peter Boyers are amongst 12 contestants in Marovo and West New Georgia/Vona Vona, respectively. Interestingly, all three were very publicly sacked in April by PM Derek Sikua following the failure of the political parties integrity bill.

All four Makira seats face between 14 to 16 contestants, making Makira the most heavily contested province in 2010. The biggest increase has occurred in East Makira (from 9 to 14 candidates), the seat vacated by retiring MP, David Sitai. However, the member for Central Makira, Bernard Ghiro, is also facing a much tougher battle – he has 15 challengers.

Temotu was one of the least-contested provinces in 2006, with 22 candidates for its three seats. However, the number has leapt to 40, making it one of the most heavily contested provinces in the country. This is largely due to Temotu Vatud, currently held by Clay Soalaoi Forau, which has the second highest number of candidates in the country – 19, up from just 8. Martin Magga is also facing more competition in Temotu Pele (13, up from 6), perhaps due to concerns about his health.  By contrast, veteran MP Patteson Oti once again faces 7 challengers in Temotu Nende.

Elsewhere, there are some tough contests in Honiara, Malaita, Guadalcanal and Choiseul.

As usual, Honiara will be vigorously contested (41 candidates for three seats). This time, Central Honiara (currently held by Nelson Ne’e) stands out with 23 candidates, the highest of any seat in the country. By contrast, East Honiara, which had 26 candidates in a recent by-election and 20 candidates in 2006, now has 12. The winner of that fierce by-election, Silas Milikada, is now contesting the seat of Marovo, leaving the field open for, amongst others, former MPs Charles Dausabea and Simeon Bouro. In West Honiara, incumbent MP Isaac Inoke faces only five other challengers.

In Malaita, three seats will be particularly tough. In West Kwara’ae, Sam Iduri will once again face 17 other candidates. The incumbent for Small Malaita, William Haomae, is one of 15 candidates including former CBSI governor, Rick Hou, and former MP, businessman and MEF leader, Alex Bartlett. Finally, in Baegu/Asifola, there are 14 hopefuls, up from just 6 in 2006. This may be due in part to reports that the incumbent, Toswell Kaua, is in ill-health.

In Guadalcanal, the increased number of candidates in a couple of seats perhaps reflects dissatisfaction with the performance of Martin Sopaghe (North Guadalcanal, previously 8 candidates, there are now 13) and Siriako Usa (North West Guadalcanal, 14 candidates, up from 10).

Finally, 13 contestants will vie for South Choiseul, the seat vacated by retiring MP, Rev Leslie Boseto.

Easier contests

There are 11 seats with 6 or fewer contestants. Presumably prospective candidates have decided that it is not worth their while to contest these seats because the incumbent will be hard to defeat and, perhaps, because there is a general view in the electorate that the incumbent is doing a good job. On that somewhat precarious basis, I predict that most of the following incumbents will be re-elected:

  • Job Tausinga (SIPRA): North New Georgia (3 candidates)
  • Manasseh Sogavare (OUR party): East Choiseul (4 candidates)
  • Stanley Sofu (SIDP): East Kwaio (4 candidates)
  • Francis Billy Hilly (Nasnol Pati): Ranonnga/Simbo (5 candidates)
  • Dr Derek Sikua (Liberal): North East Guadalcanal (6 candidates)
  • Matthew Wale (SIDP): Aoke/Langa Langa (6 candidates)
  • Trevor Olavae (Rural & Urban Political Party): South Vella La Vella (6 candidates)
  • Milner Tozaka (Liberal): North Vella La Vella (6 candidates)
  • Isaac Inoke (OUR party): West Honiara (6 candidates)
  • Allan Kemakeza (PAP): Savo and Russells (6 candidates)
  • Clement Kengava (PAP): North West Choiseul (6 candidates)

Table: number of candidates by province

Province

2010

2006

2001

1993

Malaita

142

140

113

103

Guadalcanal

79

71

44

53

Western

73

49

52

44

Makira

59

48

26

17

Honiara

41

43

25

17

Temotu

40

22

17

8

Choiseul

23

17

14

15

Isabel

26

34

17

15

Central

18

21

13

5

Rennell & Bellona

8

8

7

3

Total

509

453

328

280

Source: Solomon Islands Electoral Commission

Technical note: number of candidates

My tally of candidates by province is slightly different from that given in the Electoral Commission’s spreasheet. I have one more in Temotu Vatud, one less in Hograno/Kia/Havulei, two less in South Guadalcanal, one more in North Guadalcanal and one more in Savo/Russells. The total is the same, however, at 509.

Note (26/07/2010): In my original post, I mistakenly stated that Clay Forau is the outgoing MP for Temotu Pele and Martin Magga was the MP for Temotu Vatud. In fact, the reverse is true. I have corrected the error, with thanks to a friendly commenter for drawing it to my attention.

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6 Responses to “2010 election update”

  1. Alan McNeil Says:

    Great blog Harry
    I think you’re spot on with the implications for the greater number of candidates. I think though that it can encourage a successful candidate to focus purely on helping his immediate wantoks rather than worrying about people in other villages further down the coast of whatever constituency. Why bother helping them when, inevitably, they will field their own candidate in the next election? It becomes very localised, essentially a return to the way in which villages are led by chiefs according to custom. Despite the imposition of the Westminster system, Solomon Islanders are finding a way to warp parts of the political system back to the custom way.
    I think all your reasons for the increased number of candidates is valid, and also because Solomon Islander men aspire to be “big men” and politics represents a potentially easy way to short-cut to the top.
    Another interesting point is that relatively few MPs voluntarily step down from office. Usually they’re either voted out or die in office! Interestingly 3 are stepping down this election. I know my father-in-law is stepping down for South Choiseul because of his age and because his family have convinced him to, despite many people in the constituency wanting him to put his name forward again. The result of a solid long-standing MP retiring from office is a larger field of candidates this time round, as more people reckon they’ve got a chance now.

  2. anon Says:

    Thanks Harry! Great Job. So one of the only and the best comprehensive coverages of the 2010 Solomon Islands general elections!! Looking forward for more updates!

  3. Whymiz Says:

    Just a minor error, the former mp for Temotu VATUD is Clay Forau and for Temotu Pele is Martin Magga, you had it the other way round.

  4. Ilya Gridneff Says:

    Great blog Harry, I am AAP correspondent in PNG but now in Honiara for election results. I would love a chat- what’s your email or phone number ?

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