The Solomon Islands will vote on election delay, despite opposition
The bill proposes to amend the constitution so that the next general elections can be postponed from 2023 to 2024.
Despite opposition party members accusing Prime Minister Manasseh of a power grab, the Solomon Islands parliament was set to vote on a bill that would delay the next general elections.
Sogavare stated to parliament that he wanted Thursday’s legislation to be passed because of the possibility of protests.
This bill proposes to amend the constitution so that the country’s general elections can be postponed from 2023 to 2024.
Sogavare argued that the Solomons can’t host the Pacific Games and an electoral vote in 2023 due to logistical constraints.
He previously claimed that it would not be economically feasible to host the regional athletics meet – for which China has built seven venues and stadiums — and the general election in the same calendar year.
Opposition members have challenged Sogavare’s justification for trying to postpone voting.
Matthew Wale, the Opposition leader, stated that there is no need to choose between hosting the Pacific Games or holding the elections.
According to Wale, the delay was rejected by voters he had consulted. He described the move to reschedule the election as a “power grab by the prime minister”.
“I object to any action that weakens the mandate, the power, or the place of people in decision-making, especially when it affects a matter as crucial as the life of parliament.”
“What I find worrying is that Prime Minister Sogavare is pro-China and clearly anti-US and its allies. That concerns me greatly. It is not good for this country’s future,” Wale stated.
After violent riots against Sogavare last year in Honiara, the Solomon Islands has been at the center of a growing geopolitical tug-of-war.
Partly, the violence was caused by frustrations with Sogavare’s government and chronic unemployment.
Tuesday saw Australia offer to finance the next election in the Solomon Islands, enabling it to take place on time. This was rebuffed by Sogavare, who claimed that Canberra’s timing was “foreign interference”.
On Thursday, he told parliament that despite accepting Australia’s funding offer, he would still get it after parliament passed the bill to delay the election.
The planned delay of the election is causing controversy amid concerns from opposition parties about Sogavare’s relationship with China. In fact, the country even suspended visits by the US Navy.
In April, Sogavare’s government signed a security agreement with China that allows Chinese police to restore social order in the territory and protect Chinese infrastructure projects.
Cynthia Watson, an Asia Pacific analyst, believes that the prime minister is trying to “string his reign out” and is looking for reasons why he would do better running the country than any political opposition.
Watson stated that Sogavare also tried to redraw relations between the Solomon Islands and its traditional allies.
Watson suggested that Watson’s decision to put all his eggs in China may have been “extraordinarily naive” and could be detrimental to traditional allies like Australia and the US.
Alfred Efona (another opposition member) said that the Pacific Games shouldn’t be a reason to delay the election. He stated that the Pacific Games should not lead to “any communist ideas or behaviors and approaches hostile towards the way we treat democratic practices, including the voice, of the people”.
Sogavare denied that any democratic principles were violated when he changed the constitution to delay voting.
The Australian police teamed up with Solomon Island forces to quell anti-government protests in November.
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