Electing the Prime Minister

ON April 24 Manasseh Sogavare was elected as Prime Minister of Solomon Islands. However the elections sparked not only a legal challenge, but also rioting in the streets of Honiara. In this article, Solomon Islands’ Dr Transform Aqorau offers some ideas as to how the country’s electoral system and the process of electing the Prime Minister can be improved.

For the second time, Honiara residents have had to suffer the ignominy of riots following the election of the Prime Minister. Innocent businesses have been impacted, injuries have been sustained, and the country’s image has been tarnished once again by a small group of people in Honiara. After his election as Prime Minister in 2014, I had a meeting with Prime Minister Manasseh Sogavare on New Year’s Eve at his Office. Present at
our meeting was Derek Futaiasi, Deputy Secretary in the Prime Minister’s Office. I conveyed my concerns about the uncertainties of governing, the political instability and the social consequences that it was having especially on young people. I suggested that he should establish a bipartisan group from within Parliament to work with Solomon Islands academics such as Dr. Tarcisius Kabutaulaka and Dr. Gordon Nanau, and perhaps an expatriate constitutional expert, to look at a form of and structure of government that could minimise the opportunities for political instability. I said that the current system was unsustainable. I also said that it would not surprise me if one day, the youths would burn down Parliament House at Vavaya Ridge. They are less inhibited, more techno savvy and have less respect for the authority than previous generations.

A possible way forward
I propose that the we have a process to preselect candidates who wish to contest the elections. Instead of the current system where a person only needs three people to nominate them, a candidate must be pre-selected by a minimum of 1,000 duly registered voters from a constituency. This is not intended to make it difficult, but to allow serious candidates to discuss their policies and intentions and build coalitions, and whereby people can participate more effectively in the choosing of the candidates that they wish to contest the elections. This would be a more participatory, bottoms up approach towards choosing their candidates, rather than the present system whereby individuals can simply seek out three members of a community to sign their nomination papers, pay the requisite fee and run for elections. In this process, a candidate would still have to pay a fee, but he must be able to show that he is supported to contest the elections. This will not eliminate bribery and gifting but at least people can participate more fully in who they want to see contest the elections.

The first past the post system needs to be enhanced so that it is the first past the post with 51 per cent of the votes who get selected. This can be done either through having a limited preferential system of voting or run-off elections to ensure that whoever gets 51 per cent is declared the winner. It goes without saying that representation in Parliament should reflect the majority of the voters. This is not the case for most of the members of Parliament so in reality they cannot really claim to represent their people. In most cases, they only represent a very small proportion of their constituents. In the era of the Rural Constituency Development Fund (RCDF) where people complain that MPs only support those who vote for them, this would probably ensure a greater sense of fairness in the distribution of the RCDF.

I propose that we have direct elections of the Prime Minister by the people. It will be expensive, but given the behaviour of MPs after they are elected, the holing up in hotels, the alleged involvement of logging companies, and the alienation of the people from choosing their Prime Minister, we should change the current system. I propose that after the Parliamentarians are elected, that they choose two candidates from amongst them to  contest the position of Prime Minister. They can have their own process of elimination, but then revert to the people to elect the head of the Executive arm of the Government. It will be expensive, but it would ensure greater participatory democracy by the people. The alternative could be a hybrid system that would be involve nomination by the Parliamentarians, but broaden the base to choose the head of the Executive. This could entail all the provincial government members, or may be a college of electors chosen from within the different constituencies who could be chosen during the elections. The college of electors must contain equal representation from women and men. The Prime Minister would be elected by the college of electors, all the members of the provincial governments and the members of Parliament. I suggest that the college of electors consist of 10 per constituency, that would make 100 additional representatives. It will be expensive, but it allows for greater participation of the people in the choosing of the Head of the Executive

As we all know, the current situation is not sustainable, not because of the system but there is perhaps too much greed and corruption involved. Unfortunately, these are not factors that can be regulated. Granted our members already face a lot of pressure as it is, most of which are selfinflicted by the funds that they manage. I would like to invite a general discussion on the way forward especially in ensuring that the people have a bigger say in the election of the Prime Minister. My proposals might be a bit more expensive, but at least we would not have any reason to protest and damage innocent people’s properties. Above all, it would be a more
democratic people driven system, that would be less susceptible to the vagaries of the pressures that logging companies bring to bear on the current system. I suggest that we would trial it at the provincial governments initially to test peoples understanding of the system, then roll it out to the national elections. Give it some serious thought.

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