In 2024, national elections are anticipated in some 64 nations, along with the European Union, encompassing nearly half of the world’s population. 2024 has been termed the ‘mother of all election years’.
Elections are also due to be held in several Pacific Island nations (almost half of the Pacific Forum Nations) and the impending electoral landscape brings forth several key dynamics that will shape the year ahead. A closer look reveals nuanced understanding is required to comprehend fully the events unfolding in these islands, often viewed through external lenses.
The Solomon Islands are scheduled to hold general elections on April 17, 2024, to establish the makeup of the 12th Parliament. Originally slated for 2023, the parliament, under the leadership of Prime Minister Manasseh Sogavare, voted in 2022 to postpone the elections. Sogavare asserted that the country faced financial constraints, deeming it impractical to hold an election in the same year as the hosting of the Pacific Games.
The Sogavare government, now in caretaker mode, faces the aftermath of the 2019 diplomatic switch from Taiwan to China. The significance of this move remains uncertain for voters, despite Sogavare’s highlighting of China’s support during the Pacific Games.
Tuvalu conducted elections on January 26 and saw six new Members of Parliament securing seats in Tuvalu’s 16-member parliament. The results highlight a significant reshuffling in Tuvalu’s political landscape with the emergence of new representatives and changes in key positions.
Incumbent Prime Minister Kausea Natano and the sole female legislator, Dr. Puakena Boreham, failed to retain their seats. The former Governor General, Sir Iakoba Italeli Taeia, and Feleti Teo, the former Executive Director of the Western and Central Pacific Fisheries Commission (WCPFC), emerged as newly elected MPs.
Enele Sopoaga, prime minister from 2013 to 2019, secured re-election in Nukufetau. And former foreign minister Simon Kofe retained his seat in the Funafuti electorate.
Notably, in the electorate of Nukulaelae, sitting MPs Seve Paeniu, the finance minister, and Namoliki Sualiki faced no opposition, automatically ensuring their return to parliament.
It will be interesting to see how the new dispensation will proceed with the Falepili Union with Australia, signed just in November 2023.
Vanuatu adds a unique aspect with its first-ever referendum on proposed constitutional changes. Prime Minister, Charlot Salwai, anticipates a June referendum on the recently passed political registration act, aiming to enhance political integrity, good governance, and financial transparency. The agreed date was set in discussions with the Minister of Internal Affairs, Johnny Koanapo. The budget for the referendum is 300 million vatu (US$2.51 million), expected to gain approval during the upcoming parliamentary session for the 2024 budget. The June referendum has received confirmation from President Nikenike Vurobaravu.
Papua New Guinea
Papua New Guinea declared in October last year that it will hold Local Government Elections in 2024. They will take place toward the end of the year. Internal security threats have taken prominence in the headlines in Papua New Guinea, where a mix of cost-of-living pressures, political instability, and a volatile media environment poses challenges to maintaining social cohesion.
Security concerns are expected to loom large in 2024, with climate change and traditional security intertwined. While the acknowledgment of climate change as a security threat by partners like the US is welcomed, concerns persist about the region’s increased militarisation. ‘Defence diplomacy’ continues to be a crucial aspect of international engagement, raising questions about its impact on Pacific communities’ feelings of security.
Palau, Kiribati, Marshall Islands
Elections are also on the horizon for Palau in November and Kiribati (date pending). Already, the Marshall Islands witnessed Dr Hilda Heine sworn in as its tenth President after late 2023 elections.
This year presents a mix of challenges and opportunities for the Pacific islands region. Elections, security concerns, and regionalism require collaborative efforts from policymakers, businesses, civil society leaders, and communities to navigate the complexities ahead.