Country in the southwest Pacific Ocean, east of New Guinea, comprising many hundreds of islands, the largest of which is Guadalcanal.
Government The Solomon Islands is a multiparty democracy with a prime ministerial political executive. Its constitution, which dates from 1978, provides for a constitutional monarchy within the Commonwealth, with a resident governor general representing the UK monarch as head of state. It has a single-chamber legislature, the National Parliament, with 50 members directly elected by universal suffrage in single-member constituencies for a four-year term. The governor general appoints a prime minister, who is elected by parliament, and a cabinet, drawn from and collectively responsible to parliament.
History The islands were inhabited by Melanesians, and were sighted by a 1568 expedition from Peru led by the Spanish navigator Alvaro de Mendaña. Christian missionaries began to visit the islands from the mid-19th century. In response to concerns about the brutal recruitment of islanders to work on sugar plantations in Australia and Fiji, in the 1890s Britain declared a protectorate over the islands. During the early decades of the 20th century, Australian and British firms set up coconut plantations on the islands. During World War II there was fierce fighting against Japanese forces, notably the battle of Guadalcanal in 1942–43. After the war, the British colonial government moved its headquarters from Tulagi to Honiara, where the US military had built up a modern infrastructure.
Independence After the war, islanders began to campaign for self-government and there were strikes and civil disobedience by the radical Maasina Ruru group. In 1960, the British created a legislative council, to replace an advisory council. The Solomon Islands acquired internal self-government in 1976, with Peter Kenilorea, leader of the Solomon Islands United Party (SIUPA), as chief minister. He became prime minister when the islands achieved full independence within the Commonwealth in 1978.
Early post-independence governments Politics in the Solomon Islands has been personality- and ethnic-based, with a large number of small parties competing and winning seats in parliament. The fragmentation in politics has followed a worsening trend, leading to unstable coalition governments and frequent changes in prime minister.
The first post-independence government was elected in 1980, and in 1981 Solomon Mamaloni (1943–2000) of the People's Progressive Party became prime minister. After the 1984 general election, Kenilorea returned as prime minister, heading a SIUPA-led coalition government. He survived a series of no-confidence motions in 1985–86, but eventually resigned in December 1986, after allegations that he had accepted US$47,000 of French aid to repair cyclone damage to his home village in Malaita province. Ezekiel Alebua, also of SIUPA, became prime minister, with Kenilorea also in the cabinet. But support for the SIUPA halved in the 1989 general election, which brought back to power Mamaloni, now leading the People's Alliance Party (PAP).
Developments in foreign relations The Solomon Islands, under the SIUPA administrations, pursued a moderate pro-Western course. However, during the 1981–84 Mamaloni administration, relations with the USA were strained by the government's refusal to allow nuclear-powered warships within the islands' territorial waters. In pursuit of a new, broader ‘Pacific strategy’, the Solomon Islands joined Papua New Guinea and Vanuatu in March 1988 to form the Spearhead Group, aiming to preserve Melanesian cultural traditions and to secure independence for the French dependency of New Caledonia.
The governments of the 1990s The Mamaloni government pledged to reduce the influence of ‘foreign aid personnel’ and also move towards a republic, but failed to achieve the latter. In October 1990 the ruling PAP splintered after Mamaloni, having received a vote of no confidence, resigned as party leader but continued as prime minister. Mamaloni contested the May 1993 general election as leader of the newly formed Group for National Unity and Reconciliation (GNUR). His party won most seats, but fell short of an overall majority.
An independent, Francis Billy Hilly, became prime minister after the 1993 election, but he resigned in October 1994 and Mamaloni returned to power a month later.
Ulufa'alu in power In 1997, Bartholomew Ulufa'alu (1950–2007), the leader of the Alliance for Change (built around the Solomon Islands Liberal Party, SILP) who had been finance minister 1981–84, narrowly mustered more support in parliament than Mamaloni to become prime minister. He took over an economy where foreign and government debt was high and introduced reforms to curb corruption and improve government financial management. A year later, he had to announce reductions in public service employment as a result of the Asian financial crisis, which had greatly damaged the economy.
Ethnic conflict From late 1998, the government faced a growing ethnic conflict on the island of Guadalcanal, after militants of the Isatabu Freedom Movement (IFM), led by the warlord Harold Keke, began a campaign of intimidation and violence towards settlers from neighbouring Malaita. More than 30,000 Malaitan settlers were driven from their homes, many fleeing to Malaita, and, in 1999, a Malaita Eagle Force (MEF) was established in response.
After Commonwealth-sponsored talks, an agreement was reached in August 1999 for a peace-monitoring group of 20 police officers from Fiji, funded by Australia and New Zealand, to oversee the disarmament, from October 1999, of the IFF. The Commonwealth mediator, and former prime minister of Fiji, Sitiveni Rabuka, threatened that the Commonwealth could withdraw from the country if it did not receive full cooperation from all parties. In late 1999, the government declared a four month state of emergency.
Coup in June 2000 The MEF militia staged a coup in June 2000, putting Prime Minister Bartholomew Ulufa'alu under house arrest and securing the capital, Honiara. Ulufa'alu was a Malaitan but the MEF thought he had not done enough for his community. Fighting broke out with the rival IFF until a 14-day truce was declared. Ulufa'alu was released from house arrest after agreeing to resign as prime minister. The MEF, led by Andrew Nori, continued to hold Honiara. The crisis was resolved on 30 June 2000 when Mannesseh Sogavare, a former finance minister under Ulufa'alu but who had joined the opposition, was elected prime minister. He headed a government of national unity which included a special ministry to deal with the ethnic violence that has troubled the country.
In October 2000, the rival militia groups signed a peace accord in Townsville, Australia. Under the deal, the militia leaders invited officials from Australia and New Zealand to go to the Solomon Islands to monitor the peace. In February 2001, the Central Bank reported that the two years of conflict had brought the country to the edge of economic collapse. Exports had fallen by 40% since July 2000 and there had been increasing lawlessness and political instability.
Changes in government In December 2001, Allan Kemakeza became prime minister, following a strong showing by his People's Alliance Party (PAP) in the parliamentary elections. He had served earlier as deputy prime minister under Sogavare, but had been sacked in August 2001 following corruption allegations. He survived three no-confidence votes to see out his four-year term and his government allowed the Australian-led Regional Assistance Mission to the Solomon Islands (RAMSI) to carry out, from July 2003, its peace-keeping mission to reduce tensions on Guadalcanal.
Kemakeza's PAP lost support in the April 2006 parliamentary elections, but Snyder Rini, who had been his deputy prime minister, became the new prime minister. His election caused riots in Honiara because of fears that his government would be influenced unduly by local Chinese businessmen. In late April 2006, Rini resigned as prime minister and was replaced by Sogavare, who survived as prime minister until December 2007, when he was defeated on a no-confidence vote and was replaced by the opposition's candidate, Derek Sikua, of the SILP.
Sikua mended relations with Australia by allowing extradition of the suspended attorney general to face child sex charges in Australia. He was replaced as prime minister after the August 2010 general election by Danny Philip, a former foreign minister from the National Coalition for Reform and Advancement (NCRA). In November 2011, Philip resigned to avoid a no-confidence motion, after allegations of misappropriation of aid from Taiwan. He was replaced as prime minister by Gordon Darcy Lilo, also of the NCRA, whom Philip had recently sacked as finance minister. This sparked protests in the capital, causing the deployment of riot police.
Withdrawal of peace-keeping troops In July 2013, Australian and other troops withdrew from the Solomon Islands as the RAMSI ended its military phase. This reflected an improving security situation which led, in turn, to a record turnout of 90% in the November 2014 general election.
The election saw many established politicians, including Prime Minister Lilo, lose their seats, and nearly two-thirds of the deputies elected were independents. In December 2014, Mannesseh Sogavare became prime minister again, with the backing of the Democratic Coalition for Change, and pledged to tackle corruption.
Natural heritage East Rennell was made a World Heritage Site in November 1998. It covers nearly 50% of Rennell Island, the largest raised coral atoll in the world, and contains the 15,500 ha Lake Tegano.
Solomon Islands – Pearl of the Pacific
World Travel Guide – Solomon Islands
local headdress in Milaita
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