By John Roughan

HONIARA, Solomon Islands (PFnet, April 3) – Few if any young people in the Solomon Islands are running for national office.

The bulk of contestants are drawn from the old guard, former parliamentarians or government has-beens who have decided to throw their hats into the political arena.

They hope against hope to score well in the election to make it to the "Big Round House" on the hill.

Their electoral dream, even for the weakest of candidates, springs eternal in their breasts. I suspect, however, it's often a case of running to spoil the chances of others better qualified, dreaming about the wealth, power and position of the office than about seriously serving the people's interests.

A number of trends, some definitely positive while others remain stubbornly negative, have surfaced during the runup to the April 5 polls. Some trends argue for a better and stronger parliament than what the nation suffered over the past four years. Unfortunately other facts, like political parties springing up like mushrooms, hundreds running as independents, etc. show we haven't learnt much since 2001, our last national election.

Youth's enthusiastic involvement during the campaign period, however, argues for greater participation of civil society than has been evident in past election years. Young people tirelessly worked with the "Winds of Change"[vessel], touring the far reaches of the nation.

Solomon Islands Youth for Change, another interest group, actively promoted one of their own to gain a seat in parliament to insure that the young people's voice would be actually heard in the halls of power.

In a period when jobs are scarce and money tight, it's heartening to come in contact with youthful enthusiasm, drive and commitment. These young people could have as easily been hanging around or worse still, getting themselves into trouble and law breaking.

As well, since late February, dozens and dozens of young people, heaped up at SIDT's office complex three times a week to search out ways to be involved on Election Day. Some were also quite interested in monitoring the conduct of winning candidates in the weeks after the poll had been counted when the new government was forming.

Although they set aside more than 5 hours a week to travel to the meeting place and work at this plan, they were promised nothing - no money, no perks. All they got for their pains was a bunch of hard work to make sure the election day would go off smoothly and well. And yet they came! More than a hundred at a time.

Some 40 of them were recently scooped up by the Commonwealth Observers team to be posted to different polling booths across the nation. Others, although not chosen by the Commonwealth team, still sought to act as a positive influence in other polling places.

It's this enthusiasm that is so infective and speaks well for a better future.

Yet, other trends, worrying ones at that, have grown stronger during this election. A successful parliament, one that passes sound legislation, hammers out worthwhile national policy and sets the nation on a strong economic path, comes about through team effort. Much like a successful football team, there well may be one or two outstanding players, but it's team effort that captures the trophy, wins the prize, and comes in first.

A quick glance over the 453 listed candidates, running for this the highest office in the land, however, shows that more than 300 of them are listed as independents or do not show any party affiliation. Whatever can be said about the party system, it can strengthen individual members into a solid block of votes to map out a solid Solomons future. Individual parliamentarians on their own no matter how brilliant and insightful need the other 49 members' votes to insure that the plans for their own constituency actually becomes reality.

At last count more than a dozen separate, distinct political parties have nailed their colors to the masthead. If only a small portion of these parties and even a smaller part of the independents win seats, it's going to be an uphill struggle to form a solid team to run this country.

Fortunately, more and more of the contending candidates have gained degrees, more than a few others have proved themselves successful in business while others are seasoned bureaucrats. If these tested people can work out a formula to work together, pull in unison and act as a team, then the new government could prove to be the right step for the next four years.

Youth involvement is so strong this time because they fear that a listless, leaderless and weak parliament will hurt them more than any other group. Our Social Unrest years – 1998 to 2003 - robbed them of any worthwhile future. Right now they have no jobs and paid employment is the major road out of poverty. They don't want to see a repeat of the Social Unrest years and are doing their best to make sure those days don't come back. April 6, 2006

Dr. John Roughan, a former Catholic priest, has lived in the Solomon Islands since 1958. He is founder of the Solomon Islands Development Trust and a longtime political advocate and commentator in the Solomons. 

April 6, 2006


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