Waylaid Dialectic

July 29, 2012

Why Voting in Solomons is Unlikely to Simply be Driven by Clan Identity

Filed under: Governance — terence @ 5:16 pm
Tags: ,

This post is an appendix of sorts, something that I’m linking to from a Development Policy Centre blog post.

Solomon Islands presents a puzzle – despite operating a first past the post electoral system candidate and party numbers are high, and there is – contra Duverger’s Law – no trend towards consolidation.

One obvious explanation for this lies in the country’s heterogeneity. It is one of the most linguistically diverse countries on Earth with over 80 languages spoken there, language groups are further fragmented into clans, which are even more numerous.

So possibly there is a simple tale to be told: perhaps driven by some sort of primordial identity politics, people won’t vote for candidates from other clans, and so – because there are many clans there are many candidates.

And yet, this explanation is at odds with my election data. Like all other demographic phenomenon clan populations change gradually, and yet electoral results data change a lot within constituencies over time.

Example 1:

A scatter plot of candidate numbers. Each data point is a constituency plotted by the number of candidates that stood in the constituency in 2001, X axis and in 2010, Y axis. The line in the chart is not a best fit line, it simply maps the one to one relationship. In a simple world of one clan one candidate you would expect data points to cluster around this line. Clearly they don’t. The relationship is even weaker if I plot Effective Number of Candidates.

Example 2:

Same phenomenon, but shown across time within one constituency – Central Guadalcanal

Example 3:

Results by polling station for the 2006 elections in East Kwaio and for the 2010 elections in the same constituency.  Each line is a polling station, each colour a candidate. Either a lot of Stanley Sofu’s relatives did not vote for him in 2006, or a lot of people who weren’t related to him did vote for him in 2010.

I’ll offer some thoughts about what is actually going on in my posts on the Development Policy Centre’s blog. When that gets published I’ll link to it from here.


  1. […] and spatial patterns of electoral support, change significantly (I provide some examples of this here). And yet demographic change occurs only very slowly, meaning that the number of potential voters […]

    Pingback by Poor political governance in Solomon Islands – is culture the cause? | Development Policy Blog — August 13, 2012 @ 7:05 am

  2. One explanation is that “Clans” are not really the basis of SI identity based politics. Instead we operate along a matrix of “VCK” relations (something we have developed in IKI to describe social regulation of business outside of Honiara), village (metaphor for physical settlement), community (social relations esp. churches and sometimes other organisations like business groupings) and kastom (metaphor for what people often lump together clan, customary, kinship ties). If we use 3D “proximity” to a given candidate as the determinant for success, then movement on any of the 3 dimensions can lead to a least-squares minimisation. And while villages don’t change very quickly, nor kin ties, a candidates mobilisation of identity to proximate himself to large clusters of each of these, can be accomplished on a campaign specific basis. Hence what you say about Sofu in East Kwaio is accurate – in all constituencies (save for CFC ones), even the closest kin relations cannot be expected to vote consistently from election to election. Politics truly is unbounded in the Solomons this way.

    Comment by proughaniki — April 8, 2013 @ 12:01 am

  3. Thanks Paul – those are very interesting and helpful comments. You may have already seen them but if not, I have three more detailed blog posts up on Solomons elections at DevPolicy:

    All thoughts/feedback very much appreciated.

    Comment by terence — April 8, 2013 @ 7:24 am

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