The Ultimate Oceania Travel Guide

Editorial: Time to stand for democracy

Inside the parliament of the Solomon Islands. Picture: National Parliament of Solomon Islands
Inside the parliament of the Solomon Islands. Picture: National Parliament of Solomon Islands

The Solomon Islands Prime Minister and every MP that supported changing the country’s constitution to give themselves more time in power, have this week shown they have no respect for democracy. What is almost worse is that other leaders across the region are unwilling to call them out. So we will.

Prime Minister Sogavare takes the people of his country for fools, and they need to consider returning the sentiment at the next national election.

This is a prime minister whose government accepted billions of dollars in international money and resources for the Regional Assistance Mission to Solomon Islands then demanded the assistance stop and criticised the very countries that brought stability back to the Solomons.

The same PM – along with other members of his government – who sold out years of diplomatic relations with democratic Taiwan for Chinese money. Where much of this money ended up is a matter of speculation. What we do know is that local companies have been shut out of local infrastructure projects to pay back the country’s Chinese masters.

Now this government has trashed the nation’s constitution for no reason except power. How can the PM stand in parliament and say this with a straight face? “I would agree that if the Bill contains provisions to allow the DCGA to be in power for eternity, then yes that would be a direct attack on the right of individual Solomon Islanders to elect their representatives in this august house. But that is not what the Bill is attempting to do Mr. Speaker.”

Well prime minister, let’s be honest for a moment. There was no need to extend your term of government for even a day, and doing what you did was undemocratic. All your weasel words can’t change this.

The stated reason – that the country could not afford a regional sporting event and elections in the same year – is ridiculous. You agreed to these games so this can only mean that your government is economically incompetent. If this is the case, the country needs this election sooner not later.

And prime minister, let’s not forgot that Australia offered to fund the elections but you then turned around and accused them of trying to interfere with Solomon Islands democracy.

No prime minister, the actions of your government have already trashed democracy with no help from anyone else. You did it when you placed a government censor in the office of your national broadcaster; you did it when you started to take your advice from authoritarian regimes; and you did it in parliament last week.

This is only one example of the authoritarian behaviour by some Pacific Island governments over recent years, and regional leaders are complicit through their silence. Where is the condemnation from the Pacific Islands Forum (PIF), Australia, New Zealand and other island states?

There’s an obvious reason why Australia, New Zealand and the USA don’t speak out. By doing so they will push Pacific countries further into the arms of China. We acknowledge this dilemma and understand the sensitive diplomatic path on which these nations must walk.

This is why Pacific Island nations, led by PIF, must start to take a greater stand. For all of the good PIF does, it doesn’t call out actions by member countries that are clearly undemocratic. Currently Kiribati has no judiciary, Fiji still has draconian media laws, the USP vice chancellor is banned from returning to Fiji and millions of dollars are being withheld from the university. Added to the current fiasco in the Solomon Islands and recent elections in PNG that were tainted, and it is clear that democracy across the Pacific region is not well.

A democratic region is a stronger region. Strong leaders are those who are followed because they have gained the trust of their people. Weak leaders must lead by physical or emotional force because they are afraid of the will of the people.

Former US president Ronald Reagan said “Democracy is worth dying for, because it’s the most deeply honorable form of government ever devised by man.”

Who will stand up for democracy in our region?

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