by Jeffrey S. Steeves
This Melanesian South-West Pacific country composed of six major islands—Choiseul, New Georgia, Santa Isabel, Guadalcanal, Malaita, and Makira—has maintained a continuous commitment to a democratic political system since independence from Great Britain on 8 July 1978. Since then, national elections have been held regularly—in 1980, 1984, 1989, 1993, and 1997. Each election has featured multi-party competition supplemented by the skillful use by parties of shadow independent candidates as well as genuine independents. Only in 1993 did one party win a majority of seats in Parliament. Otherwise, coalition governments have been constructed. With fluid party affiliations and a significant number of independent MPs, no-confidence motions have become a potent weapon in the continuous struggle for power.
In the 1976 pre-independence elections, three political parties—Solomon Mamaloni's Rural Alliance Party (RAP), Bart Ulufa'alu's National Democratic Party (NADEPA), and a tenuous Melanesian Action Party (MAP) contested 38 parliamentary constituencies, but in the end, the Independent Group (IG) emerged as the strongest group with 15 seats and supported Peter Kenilorea to be Chief Minister. Kenilorea, who had formed in the meanwhile the Solomon Islands United Party (SIUP), successfully maintained a plurality of 16 seats in the first post-independence elections in 1980 against Mamaloni's recast People's Alliance Party (PAP), the NADEPA and 10 independents. Once assembled, the elected Parliament became embroiled in party maneuvering to craft a winning coalition. Bargaining then as now revolves around four crucial items: (1) the offer and allocation of cabinet positions; (2) perceived leadership ability for the prime ministership; (3) regional balance among provinces/island communities in cabinet assignments; and, (4) future parliamentary and thus governmental longevity. A coalition of SIUP and the Independent Group