National elections and women candidates in Solomon Islands: results from the People’s Survey
The Solomon Islands comprises around half a million people from nearly a hundred different language and cultural groups. Around 80% of the population depends mainly on subsistence agriculture and many adults have only a few years of primary schooling. Since attaining independence in 1978, Solomon Islands has been governed by a national parliament based on the Westminster system. There are currently 50 elected members to represent nine provinces and the capital, Honiara. Elected provincial governments are responsible for local government, while at the community level, chiefs and elders still make many of the decisions.
Corruption and poor management have impaired the performance of both national and provincial governments and many people do not have access to basic infrastructure or economic opportunities. A striking feature of elected governments in Solomon Islands is the general scarcity of women. Although some community elders are women and women have achieved senior positions in the public service and civil society, very few women have been elected to provincial governments and only one has ever won a seat in the national Parliament. Prior to the 2006 and 2010 national elections, various donors and local organizations made substantial efforts to educate communities in the concept of democracy, civic rights and the importance of voting independently for the candidates most likely to provide good governance (Alasia, 2008: 119-126; Transparency International, 2010). They also helped to encourage, organise and support women candidates and in the 2010 election women contested 21 of the 50 seats. Despite this, women candidates received only 4% of the vote in the 21 seats they contested. Not a single woman won office or even came close to receiving most votes in the seats they contested. The majority of women candidates were among the least successful.
This paper explores data on Solomon Islanders’ perceptions of the role of an elected Member of Parliament (MP), their experience of elections and their perceptions of women as leaders. The data are drawn from the People’s Survey (RAMSI, 2007, 2008, 2009 and 2010), which has been conducted annually since 2007 to inform evaluations of The Regional Assistance Mission to the Solomon Islands (RAMSI) and to provide feedback to the Solomon Islands Government and the community.