MPs at the Honiara Hotel Camp before the Motion of No Confidence last week.

Tomorrow (Wednesday, 15 November 2017), the Solomon Islands National Parliament will elect a new Prime Minister to replace Manasseh Sogavare, who was voted out in a motion of no confidence last week.

Two Members of Parliament have been nominated for the position. They are Rick Hou, the MP for South Malaita, and John Moffat Fugui, the MP for Central Honiara.

This commentary is not to support any of the two candidates. Nor is it to lament the ousting of Manasseh Sogavare.

Rather, it is a commentary on “politicians vs. leaders.”

We use these terms so often in our everyday conversations, in the media, in churches, etc. that we do not usually pause to think about what they mean and how those meanings impact our societies.

This article provides the opportunity to pause and think about these terms.

This might seem insignificant, in light of the country’s current political predicaments.

But, understanding the meanings and nuances of these terms and their correct use will help frame our discussions about, and understanding of, leadership and the roles of members of parliament.

It will also inform our assessments of the ongoing political processes and the behavior and misbehaviors of our elected officials.

This is because language, not only describes what is out there, but it creates and imposes meanings that influence our understandings of our society and how we relate to it.

Furthermore, politics is largely about the deployment of language. It is therefore necessary to think about and understand the nuances of the language we hear and use.

There is a tendency in Solomon Islands (and elsewhere) to conflate the terms “politician” and “leader” and use them interchangeably as though they mean the same thing.

Such conflations could create misunderstandings about the roles and actions (or lack thereof) of elected officials, the expectations of citizens, and ultimately the quality and outcome of governance processes.

Here, we adopt the definition provided by G. C. Moodie (1964), which states that, “the term ‘politician’ is most commonly used to refer to a person actively engaged in the struggle for governmental power and/or office, whose success largely depends upon the favour of others and who, to achieve success, must therefore be skilled in the arts of persuasion, negotiation and compromise.”

It should also be added that, (a) the term “politician” does not normally apply to professional full-time administrators; and, (b) it does not apply to those who, for all their concern with political power, are neither members of a governing body nor openly aspiring to such office.

Although the above definition was provided fifty-three years ago, it is still relevant today and especially to Solomon Islands.

What the members of parliament have been engaged in the last week was as politicians, jostling for control of government and political power.

As politicians, they negotiated and rallied for support from both within and outside of parliament – from their political parties, cronies, corporate entities, and sometimes even from criminals whose roles are legitimized by deploying them as “security”; a misleading use of a word to mask the fact that these individuals were and are often the causes of insecurities.

Here, the “art of persuasion” involves, not only the use of words, but allegedly also the greasing of decisions with either the transfer, or the promise of monetary gifts.

Compromises, however fluid, were eventually made and hence, the establishment of the two groups that have nominated Hou and Fugui to be candidates for prized PM position.  

That is politics by politicians.

But, being a politician does not necessarily mean that one is a leader.

In fact, it could be argued that Solomon Islands National Parliament is full of politicians, but few leaders.

A leader refers to someone who proactively creates positive changes that benefits others – in this case, Solomon Islanders. A leader creates new and better goals, improves old ones, and initiates new courses of action to continuously improve our social, physical and spiritual conditions. A leader challenges the status quo, in the most positive and diplomatic of ways, in order to continuously improve society. They create something of value that did not previously exist, exhibit positive energy, and welcome change. 

Solomon Islanders need to use these characteristics to measure the performances of our representatives in parliament, based on, not only what was said and done in the last week, but in the past three years and even before that.

We need to ask: Did we elect politicians, or leaders?

Solomon Islands needs leaders. Not just politicians.

This is because politicians without leadership qualities will constantly be engaged in political squabbles, more interested in amassing benefits for themselves and their cronies, and maintaining fiscal arrangements that have never resulted in development and the improvement of our peoples’ livelihood.

So, when we cast our votes in 2019, let’s elect leaders. Not just politicians. 

–        By Tom Tom

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