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John Roughan: New Political Culture Forming?

New Political Culture Forming?

J. Roughan
31 January 2006

By April this year, the Solomons will have gone through its seventh national election since its 1978 independence. Every national poll without exception has fortunately been run, free and fair. In fact in the country's last election, 2001, dozens of international experts verified that it indeed was a solid poll, both free and fair. Thankfully, the up coming one should give us more of the same. Yet, something new is happening!

Is a new political culture beginning to form? Are citizens demanding much more than 'free and fair'? Is there movement to make this election more inclusive, more practically focused and recognized as vitally important to the whole of the nation? In some ways, Old Style Politics, that is of, for and about men has begun to shift. Political parties' manifestos and candidates' personal statements reflect more deeply the needs of people's lives. And, without doubt, citizens across the nation realize that this up coming election is not simply about electing new MPs but it is a vitally important step to the future health and welfare of people.

More and more women are running, and running hard and early in this election. The National Council of Women has wisely taken the time, effort and finance to better equip women how to campaign more effectively, to better use media to get their message out and when elected, to make the most of newly found power not only for other women but for the nation as a whole.

One of the most destructive elements of 20th century Solomons Old Style Politics was the absurdity that men and men alone were fit and capable of running this country on their own. It was like asking an eagle to fly with one wing. . . it just can't be done. And wonders of wonders, for more than a quarter of a century our nation never flew but flopped, floundered and almost failed! 300 male MPs and a single woman in its 27 years of parliamentary history tried to make the Solomons a serious player in world affairs. Their experiment almost destroyed us all!

The village and the villager are less and less regarded as marginal, as something and someone at the edge of economic life. In Old Style Politics, however, the only time the villager gained importance was the few months before an election. Of course, that kind of male thinking remains strong even today. But other voices are now heard. The village is at last gaining backers, serious leaders and decision makers to voice out their concern.

Last week, for instance, on Australian day, the High Commissioner made his sentiments quite clear: "We need together to find ways to unleash the economic potential of the grassroots village communities." In mid-2005, in similar vein, the Central Bank's Governor was working to convince government personnel that the Solomons' future lay in investing in the village and the villager.

These sentiments are not just so much nice sounding words or pious feelings with little backing in the real world. Like it or not the typical villager's backyard is where the Solomons' resource base resides. Coconuts, cocoa, food and fruit crops, timber, minerals, etc. have their the natural home there! Honiara and the rest of the nation's urban centres don't and can't appear on any resource radar screen. Village people are quietly realizing that their resource base has the potential of turning this country around and move them front and centre in political power.

For instance, at least three local firms, some with international connections, are actively researching, testing and perfecting a biodiesel industry from coconuts.

The price of imported energy--petrol, kerosene, diesel, oil, etc.--rises steeply before our eyes monthly. At the same time, our hunger for energy surges. This twin reality bind--rising energy costs and our growing appetite for energy products--has us facing a bleak future. Fortunately the villager's coconut base responds perfectly to both needs. A biodiesel industry, village based, will curb our energy imports. Secondly, and as important, the import money saved finds its place in villagers' pockets, not in Shell's and Mobile's bank accounts. The potential for villager's political clout multiplies significantly. This is the basis for a New Political Culture.

But Honiara's entrenched business interests, the 27 years of elite cronyism and years of male ineptitude seriously block any new kind of politics. Although some of the building blocks of a New Political Culture are on the rise--women's involvement, village based and grassroots economics--the above obstacles are strong, persistent and deeply rooted. Of course it will take more than a national election to turn this ship of state around and stop it heading for the reef once again. But strengthening these building blocks is one way of doing it.


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