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Animosity in the Solomons to run its course

Friday, April 21, 2006

Animosity in the Solomons to run its course

Rioting in the Solomon Islands reveals the depth of political instability typical of Melanesian politics, says Pacific Islands and development specialist Dr Donovan Storey.

Dr Storey says the Solomons’ inaugural full election was the first real test for the Regional Assistance Mission to the Solomon Islands (RAMSI) set up by Australia and New Zealand after civil disorder in 2003.

Dr Storey says there were always going to be problems in the face of an established politician, Snyder Rini, running for the prime ministerial position.

“In the Solomons, political candidates are always painted as representing a particular community. As the former minister for finance, Rini faced a lot of anger from land-owners and accusations of corruption of illegal logging contracts given to Asian companies.

“RAMSI’s roots are shallow; it is an overlaying institution but the real politics and decision-making exist in a fluid and fragile system. Stability will come from building stability and civilian capability, but animosity of this sort will run its course.”

He says the attack on the Chinatown business district in Honiara is a reaction to accusations that Snyder took money from Honiara’s established Taiwanese community for his campaign.

“Conflict about the support for either the People’s Republic of China or Taiwan frequently rears its head in the Pacific, and in this case Snyder was taking a pro-Taiwan line to gain their financial and political support.

“Land-owners and Soloman Islanders fear a loss of control of natural resources, and a consequential loss of security and traditional livelihood.”

Dr Storey says that although the democratic election process was observed, there will be difficulty in establishing the legitimacy of the new government.

“Typical among Melanesian politics, the slim majority won by Snyder means there will be a lot of coalition and personality politics, and I would be very surprised to see this government go full term. Governments in [other Melanesian states] Vanuatu and Papua New Guinea rarely stay intact until the next election.

“This disruption shows just how difficult state-building is, and the challenge the RAMSI faces. State-building takes a lot of resources and time, and it has only been three years since RAMSI stepped in to intervene and establish justice and a military presence.”


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