It looks like the seat of Small Malaita will be hotly contested, with at least three prominent candidates to watch.
In mid-May, the Solomon Star reported that highly-regarded former head of the Central Bank, Rick Houwenipela (generally shortened to Rick Hou) has cut short his contract with the World Bank to contest the seat.
The head of the newly established People’s Federation Party and former foreign affairs official, Rudolf Henry Dorah, has also said that he has his eye on Small Malaita.
They will be challenging the incumbent MP and outgoing Minister for Foreign Affairs, William Haomae, who has held the seat in 1993-97, 1997-2001 and 2006-2010.
In 2006, Haomae faced 10 other contenders and eventually won with just over 20% of the vote (his nearest rival, Matthew Fakaia, won 17%). In 2001, however, both Haomae (2nd, 1124 votes or 17%) and Fakaia (3rd, 719 votes or 11%) were defeated by businessman Alex Bartlett (1941 votes, or 29%).
Around the time of his election, in the midst of the Tensions, Bartlett was also one of the leaders of the Malaitan Eagle Force (MEF). In September 2004 he was charged by police (Moore 2004, p.214) and subsequently jailed; the seat then remained vacant until the following election. Before this occurred, Bartlett managed to hold three different portfolios. Initially he was Minister for Foreign Affairs but ‘became something of a liability … when the United States refused to issue him a transit visa because the MEF was on a list of terrorist organisations’ (Moore 2004, p.179). Consequently, in 2003 he was shifted into Tourism and Aviation but by 2004, he had moved again, to Agriculture and Fisheries. Later, Bartlett was the subject of charges (later dropped) relating to the April riots in 2006.
Bartlett and Haomae have a long history – back in 1989, Haomae lodged the sole petition challenging Barlett’s victory in that election. His petition, like so many thereafter, was unsuccessful. Later in that term of parliament, Bartlett was embroiled in controversy when, in 1992, he and Finance Minister Christopher Columbus Abe purported to represent the Central Bank when they negotiated and signed a loan document for US$250 million without the Bank’s knowledge (Moore 2004, p.55).
Reference: Moore, C (2004) Happy Isles in Crisis, Asia Pacific Press