Transparency Solomon Islands supports the idea of women being in parliament and sees political corruption and political financing using public funds as the main stumbling block or barrier to women getting into parliament. Here we take a brief look at what is trending at the moment with regard to electing women into parliament here in Solomon Islands and asking the question of “does the current trend improve the chances of women getting into parliament or does it create more problem for this cause”.
For a number of years and still continuing millions of dollars are being spent in Solomon Islands and in the region in the name of getting women into parliament. As can be in Solomon Islands no women can be said to have got into parliament because of the impact of the programmes that are being spent on this cause nor can we say that those elected have come through with campaign that women will act differently in parliament and deliver for all. Women it is said will stand up for women issues, they will not be grasshopping once they got it, they will be transparent, accountable and list goes on as leader at the parliament. The question is why are they not delivering, and why are they not even talking to the women leaders and women’s organisations and women who would love to share with them raise the issues from their perspectives and make themselves available for questions and answers, take that initiative and do things differently from what she campaign alleged the male members of parliament are not doing. Today we have the biggest number of women in parliament and yet these women isolate themselves away from the women and from the public. What then is wrong or the problem? Is it who they are or how they are elected, is it the electoral system that we have that has been manipulated by a few that have access to funds? Is it the monetization of the elections that has not brought about what is preached about women leadership in parliament?
The current trend in the election of female Member of Parliament (MP) in Solomon Islands is truly not as a result of the efforts and trust behind our continuous advocacy to elect more women to parliament. There are only two elected women parliamentarians that can be said to have got into parliament under their own steam and effort. In the election of Mrs. Hilda Kari, it can be comfortably said that the National Council of Women then when it was extremely active, prominent male elders of the constituency and the men and women of her constituency that run a successful campaign for her election were to be credited. In the case of Ms. Freda Tuki her election can also be accredited to her own effort including those of her supporters including the traditional leadership system of her constituency and more importantly she is a woman with means. But this is where it ends.
It does not need rocket science to know that out of the current four elected women in parliament, only one can be said to have truly contested among a male-dominated constituency to win the election instead of succeeding a petition-ousted or otherwise husband in a bye election. The recent victory of Mrs. Ethel Vokia as MP for North East Guadalcanal in a bye-election results in four women in the 11th parliament the highest decision – making and law-making body of Solomon Islands as a sovereign nation. The three female MP who succeeded their husbands are Lanelle Tanagada, Lilly Maefai and newly elected Mrs. Ethel Vokia. Freda Tuki Soriacomua [VATUD] now serving her second term in parliament since she contested the 2014 so to speak, although she was disqualified towards the end of the 10th Parliament. National General Election (NGE) 2019 showed her convincingly win against aggressive male candidates who petition against her. They could not stop her from being re-elected in the 2019 NGE. Freda truly shows her strength as a woman striving to convince her people of Temotu Vatud that she has the capability to lead them. It could also be as a result of the equal distribution of the benefits of the millions of CDF channeled through her before she was ousted by the petition against her. Her courage and ability to get the support of majority men and women in her constituency to vote her into parliament at this point in time can be said to be outstandingly impressive. She truly deserves praise. Her efforts to become MP in the absence of any other conflicting information can be said to be the same as Hilda Kari working hard to win her constituency’s [North East Guadalcanal] support. Both Hilda Kari and Freda are true icons for our women and a testimony of men and women of these two constituencies recognizing and acknowledging the ability of women to representatives of their constituencies, respectively.
However, the other three women in parliament were elected after their husbands (former MPs) were ousted by petition case where the court ruled that they were not elected legally. This now seem to be the most successful mechanism for electing women into parliament and this trend raises a lot more questions with the campaign in getting women into parliament. Are we getting the right women into the parliament to deliver the quality of leadership, representation that one is told about women in this campaign? Does this trend create new problems for the campaign to get women into parliament? Does this trend create any level playing field for aspiring women leaders who do not have access to resources, who want to get into parliament in a transparent, honest and clean way? Lastly is this trend taking the campaign to get women into parliament backwards or forwards with regard to the quality of leadership that this campaign says women will bring about once elected. Unlike Mrs Vokia and Mrs Tanangada, Lilly Maefai was elected to the parliament in a by-election after the husband (former MP) passed away. They are still spouses of former Members of Parliament and elected in through the by-elections. It is quite clear that her win in the by-election is linked to sympathy vote from those who voted her husband.
Transparency Solomon Islands congratulates all our women voted into parliament and fully supporting them, but what is becoming a concern is the trend now observed with regard to environment surrounding their election. It seems that the easy way for a woman to get into parliament at the moment anyway is to be a spouse of a former MP disqualified either by the court or where an elected male member is deceased in their term in parliament. TSI see the current trend as a concern and an issue that the campaign to have more woman into parliament, must look into. It may result in further delays in getting more women into parliament and the right women into parliament to lead as per campaign justification. The biggest question is who really is in parliament and holds the power of the women who win through this means. So far what can be seen is that these women, still grasshopper from one party to another, they hardly contribute meaningfully nor in depth in debates in parliament, they hardly say much and the list goes on contrary to the campaign to get women into parliament promises the nation.
Transparency Solomon Islands see that women who became MPs as successor of their husbands ousted in an election petition by the courts are likely controlled by their husbands in terms of decision makings. The question is where does the power lie. Most certainly so far what is observed is that the power lies elsewhere, and women have become numbers to ensure powerful brokers in the party win government, nothing more nothing less. They have become numbers to improve the ruling governments chances of remaining in power and worst still among the Rank and file members of a political party coalition who tend to be apathetic (lazy, indifferent, listless) and are therefore generally inclined to accept subordination and idolize leaders.
It is obvious therefore obvious that despite all the cultural barriers and challenges women face in a male-dominated society to become MPs, the easiest way for them to make it to parliament is through by-election when their spouse have either their elected husband lost through a petition or when the elected spouse can no longer be in parliament due to death.
Whilst Transparency Solomon Islands congratulates the women Members of Parliament, it calls for a system of electoral that would address the current issues we see with First Past The Post electoral system. This trend does not help the campaign to get more women into parliament. It is not a trend that has any positive impact on the campaign and that it deprives other equally aspiring women leaders the opportunity to have a go in a free and fair election environment. How these women perform or not perform will always have an impact on the credibility, ability, and capability of women in the eyes of those who cast their votes. If they perform better than the men which is what the campaign is all about well and good but if they do not then they will take this campaign many steps backward.
Transparency Solomon Islands is of the view that changing or looking into what electoral systems there are that will create a more level playing field for all candidates including women be they wives of former Members of parliament or not should now be urgently explored
The Preferential Voting System a majoritarian system was mooted, and it should now be looked into when the electoral act is reviewed. This will go a long way to issue of monetization of elections. In Fiji we know there are more women who got into parliament through the electoral system that they use for electing their representatives. This is the Party-List Electoral System a proportional electoral type where the entire country is treated as a single constituency. This is the only potentially pure system of proportional representation and is therefore fair to all parties. The system promotes unity by encouraging electors to identify their nation or region rather than with a constituency. The system makes it easier for women and minority candidates to be elected, provided of course they feature on the party list. The representation of a large number of small parties ensures that there is an emphasis upon negotiation, bargaining and consensus. They are many variants to the proportional electoral system. Given the almost totalitarian regime we currently have, the issue of getting women into parliament free and fair Transparency Solomon Islands urges the Electoral Commission to rescue the country now by putting in an electoral system that will address current issues and ensure more women get into parliament and more importantly for the development and strengthening of the Political Party System in Solomon Islands.
Transparency Solomon Islands heartily congratulates all the women voted into parliament and wish them a successful representative of their people during their term in the round house. Women show the male dominated parliament what you can do. Women are standing by to brainstorm with you all areas that you are passionate about. TSI congratulates all the women who were voted into the provincial governments of Solomon Islands as they can prove at the provincial level their capability to lead and govern our people and province. You are one lot of representatives that have shown your worth in the provincial government. Yes, we need women in political leadership, the campaign must however be reviewed and reformed to address emerging and chronic issues that affect women’s chances getting into parliament.