Solomon Islands Election Called Off
Jun. 28, 2000
HONIARA, Solomon Islands (AP) _ The election of a new prime minister was called off Wednesday when only 22 of 50 Solomon Islands lawmakers turned up at Parliament for the crucial vote.
All but two government members boycotted the election after Finance Minister Alpha Kimata was ordered at gunpoint to vote for the opposition's candidate, said deposed Prime Minister Bartholomew Ulufa'alu.
The failure of the meeting was another setback for the faltering peace process in the Solomon Islands, which has for months been racked by ethnic fighting.
Ulufa'alu described the person who threatened the minister as a ``militant'' but did not elaborate.
Government members felt ``that for the sake of their security, they were not in any position to attend. No one can blame them for it,'' Ulufa'alu said. ``The good will by the militants was not there.''
Governor General Sir John Ini Lapli called off the meeting after about an hour, saying there were not enough lawmakers present for the vote to go ahead. No new date was immediately set for the election.
The vote had been called to pick a replacement for Ulufa'alu, who resigned under duress two weeks ago after armed rebels seized the capital of Honiara and briefly held him at gunpoint.
The rebels from the island of Malaita raided a police armory on June 5, captured Honiara and forced Ulufa'alu out as part of a long-running ethnic dispute over land.
The rebels were angry that in the past 18 months the indigenous Isatabus of the main island Guadalcanal have expelled 20,000 people who migrated from nearby Malaita in recent decades to find jobs and land. Violence in recent months has killed up to 60 people.
The rebels and a rival armed group say they want to begin peace talks but have refused to disarm until a prime minister is selected. A truce has held for more than two weeks.
Three candidates had been put forward for the prime minister's job, two from Ulufa'alu's government and one from the opposition. None of the three had links to either warring militia.
The streets of Honiara, which have witnessed sporadic shootings in recent months, were quiet ahead of the vote as militias withdrew their fighters from the city in a goodwill gesture.
Unarmed police officers surrounded parliament and about 60 women prayed and sang hymns outside as the lawmakers met.
But Ulufa'alu said the minister was threatened as he got off a plane at Honiara airport. Ulufa'alu suggested officials should select a neutral venue, possibly outside the Solomon Islands, for the vote to ensure it is unhindered by threats of violence.