THE government of Solomon Islands is mooting the idea of extending parliament’s term via constitutional amendment, either through a sunset clause or permanently, in light of the general election and Pacific Games falling in the same year.
While the Opposition, business sector, and public seem united against the proposal, a leaked memo reveals that the government’s decision may be pre-baked and unaffected by current consultations.
The government, if it goes down the route of amendment rather than snap elections, would set a dangerous precedent of delaying elections and amending the Constitution to suit the party in power – writes Dr. Joseph D. Foukona Introduction In April 2021 a leaked document showed that the Solomon Islands government was considering a constitutional amendment to extend the current parliament’s term from four to five years, thus delaying elections for a year.
One of the government’s main reasons for proposing such an amendment is that Solomon Islands is hosting the 2023 Pacific Games from 19 November to early December 2023.
The government contended that “resources, manpower, and logistics would be stretched in two major events”: elections in mid-2023 and the Pacific Games later that year.
The way this proposal came to light and the unsatisfactory rationale for delaying elections have generated concerns around the government’s true motivations. This piece examines the suspect timeline and alternate options available to the government to avoid the concerning precedent of capricious constitutional amendments to benefit the incumbent government, and threats to democracy posed by delaying elections without sufficient justification.
A shock announcement Prime Minister Manasseh Sogavare’s coalition government – the Democratic Coalition Government for Advancement (DCGA) – is serious about pursuing this policy proposal, which has emerged midway through its term. The DCGA is made up of the Ownership, and Unity Responsibility Party (OUR Party), which is the core group led by Sogavare, the Democratic Alliance Party (DAP), the Kadere Party, and the Solomon Islands People First Party.
The OUR Party was formally registered after the 2019 national elections with most of its members elected as independent candidates while others switched party affiliation after the election.
The DCGA proposal is tainted by suspicious circumstances: the public only became aware of this policy proposal when the Parliamentary Opposition Group asked Sogavare about it in parliament on 19 April 2021.
Sogavare responded that the proposed policy would follow the proper process and not be rushed. A leaked confidential cabinet document revealed that the Cabinet had made a resolution in February 2021 to extend the parliament’s four-year term…
However, a leaked confidential cabinet document revealed that the Cabinet had made a resolution in February 2021 to extend the parliament’s four-year term, ostensibly to implement their development plans and programs for the term.
The government took a back foot to explain its intentions, and Sogavare said in parliament that Cabinet’s endorsement “was for the policy to be developed and public consultations were to follow.”
During this flurry of confusion and criticism, the government directed the Special Secretary to the Prime Minister (SSPM) and the Attorney General to lead consultations. So far, they have carried out consultations with specific groups such as the provincial premiers, the Solomon Islands Chamber of Commerce and Industry (SICCI), and the Solomon Islands Full Gospel Association (SIFGA).
The Governor-General, Sir David Vunagi, encouraged members of parliament to consult their constituencies about the proposed policy. This call is logical because no political party or member of the current parliament campaigned on the idea of extending the life of parliament during the nation’s general election in April 2019. The SSPM stated that consultation is still ongoing, and after that, they will report back to Cabinet to make a decision.
He explained if Cabinet approves the policy proposal, they “would not need to consult [the people]” but rather would “draft the bill and take it up to Parliament.” He maintains that Cabinet has not yet decided on the proposal.
However, the Opposition Leader, Hon Matthew Wale, and the Independent Group Leader, Hon John Dean Kuku, argued that the leaked cabinet document, to the contrary, shows that the government’s claim that Cabinet is yet to approve the policy proposal is misleading.
Groups involved in the consultation, such as SICCI, have, in fact, indicated that businesses do not support the government’s proposal to extend parliament’s life.
The Parliamentary Opposition group has also stated that they do not support the idea. The Independent Group Leader has now called on the Prime Minister to take the proposal “to the people in the Constituencies to decide”
By Dr Joseph D. Foukona