The Solomon Islands has no excuse to defer elections now as the funding is available, said Solomon Islands Opposition leader Matthew Wale following an outburst by the nation’s prime minister Manasseh Sogavare.
Mr Sogavare claimed Australia had assaulted the parliamentary democracy of the Solomon Islands by offering to fund the elections and then announcing it in the media.
He said this would influence voting in parliament. Mr Wale said he was surprised by Mr Sogavare’s response.
“How shallow and irresponsible of the Prime Minister to even think like this. When Australia announced its funding support for the Pacific Games recently the Prime Minister never complained that it was an influence. Obviously he is a man of great paranoia and his true colours behind his real intentions to extend Parliament is never about the pacific games,” he said in a statement.
Mr Wale said the actions of Mr Sogavare showed his attempts to hold on to power for another year. He urged government members of parliament to allow other factors to influence their conscience and to do the right thing.
“This is not about political power play but about embracing the very principles that hold our democratic and parliamentary processes together,” he said.
“If we respect the people’s mandate, the parliamentary democracy and processes, members should reject the Bill to postpone elections. With Australian funding, there is now no need for the Bill.”
Mr Sogavare tabled the amendment to the Constitution so that change could be made to it to allow the election to be pushed forward.
The reasoning given by Mr Sogavare for this is that the nation could not afford to hold elections and the Pacific Games in the same year.
Another opposition member of parliament Derrick Manuari said members from the government who were planning to vote in favour of the amendment should think seriously before they decide.
“When we lobbied to host the Pacific Games in Vila in May 2016, we also knew that elections would happen in the same year,” he said.
“But the agenda to extend parliament was never brought up then.”
He said he suspected there were other reasons as to why the extension was being asked for. The Solomon Islands parliament will convene on Friday to deliberate on the bill after which it will be put to the members to cast their votes.
This is expected to be a heated session as the prime minister will be put to the test to explain why the election needs to be deferred when the funding was forthcoming.
Mr Sogavare has not declined Australia’s offer to fund the elections but it is believed that he would agree to the funding after the bill is passed and elections deferred.
Australia “assaulting parliamentary democracy” – 7 September 2022
Solomon Islands prime minister Manasseh Sogavare has accused Australia’s offer to fund its general elections as an attempt to influence its parliament into voting against a bill which has been tabled.
The Solomon Islands ruling party has tabled a bill to amend the Constitution so general elections could take place in 2024 rather than the scheduled year of 2023.
The government had stated that it did not have the finances to fund the general elections and the Pacific Games in the same year.
In a statement on Tuesday, Mr Sogavare said Australia had assaulted their parliamentary democracy.
While the response has been scathing from the Solomon Islands, the offer itself has not been rejected. There is talk that the government intends to make the amendments to defer the elections but still ask Australia to fund the polls.
“The timing of the public media announcement by the Australian Government is in effect a strategy to influence how members of parliament will vote on this Bill during the second reading on Thursday 8th September 2022,” the statement said.
“This is an assault on our parliamentary democracy and is a direct interference by a foreign government into our domestic affairs.”
On September 1, Australian foreign minister Penny Wong wrote to her Solomon Islands counterpart Jeremiah Manele offering to fund its general election.
The next day during a talkback show in Australia, when questioned about the Solomon Islands, Ms Wong said they had made an offer for funding.
“It reflects our longstanding and historical commitment to supporting democracy and democratic processes in Solomon Islands, and we’ve previously offered support and we are offering support again,” she said.
“We have made an offer of assistance, and it’s a matter for Solomon Islands as to whether they will respond and how they wish to respond.
“This is because Australia has always and historically supported democracy in Solomon Islands. It’s something through the Pacific we’ve made offers previously for support for elections, just as obviously recently we were supportive of the Papua New Guinean election. So, this is a reasonably common approach that Australian governments have made over years.”
The Solomon Islands Government has conveyed to the Australian Government its concern about the conduct of bilateral relations via the media through the Australian High Commission Office in Honiara.
“Solomon Islands is a sovereign country and its Parliament must not be seen to be coerced or unduly influenced by ill-timed offers that is directed to a matter that is before Parliament,” the statement said.
The Solomon Islands Government will make a formal response to Australia’s offer after parliament has disposed the Constitution (Amendment) Bill 2022.