The Solomon Islands parliament has voted to delay the country’s national elections to 2024, backing a push from Prime Minister Manasseh Sogavare to postpone the poll until after the Pacific Games next year.
The bill to delay the poll for seven months passed parliament with 37 votes in favour to 10 against.
Elections in Solomon Islands are meant to be held every four years and parliament is due to dissolve in just six months.
But Sogavare maintains he needs to delay the election until after the Pacific Games in late 2023 because his country does not have the financial resources to hold two major events in the same year.
Solomon Islands Opposition Leader Mathew Wale accused Sogavare of “scheming” to stay in power and deceive voters.
“This bill comes at the cost of the voters’ right to exercise their votes at the general election in 2023,” he said before it passed parliament.
“There is no popular electoral mandate for this bill. That’s the fundamental problem with this bill. This alone should have given [the government] pause.”
Earlier, Sogavare mocked Australia while declaring he will take up the government’s offer to help fund the next national election – but only after his country had voted to push it back.
Sogavare on Thursday repeated his attack on Australia’s offer to fund elections scheduled for next year, telling parliament he still saw it as “an attempt to directly interfere in our domestic affairs”.
Foreign Minister Penny Wong on Wednesday denied that Australia was trying to interfere in Solomon Islands politics by offering to help fund the elections, stressing that the assistance would be available for a poll in either 2023 or 2024.
No attack on democracy
Meanwhile, PM Sogavare has clarified that the constitutional amendment bill 2022 is “not an attack” on the nation’s democracy nor does it intrude on the fundamental rights of the people to vote.
PM Sogavare made the clarification in parliament when he raised to table the second reading of the constitutional amendment bill 2022 which seeks to suspend section 73(3) of the national constitution to allow for the deferment of the dissolution of parliament.
The Prime Minister said those who claim to be knowledgeable about democracy have failed to provide evidence or legal validity to prove that the bill is an attack on our democracy and that it infringes on the rights of the people to vote.
PM Sogavare reaffirmed the country’s representative democracy is premised on serving the national best interests of the majority of our citizens as enshrined in the nation’s Constitution.
He further reiterated the constitutional amendment bill will not prohibit people from voting nor will it curtail any fundamental rights, freedoms or privileges.
The Prime Minister added that if the bill allows for the government to remain in power for eternity then that would be an attack on our democracy.
“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,” Sogavare stated.
The Prime Minister reiterated that the Democratic Coalition Government for Advancement (DCGA) has repeatedly stated that the reason for the deferment of the dissolution of parliament is that government cannot host two major events at once, as the country is still recovering from the negative impacts of COVID-19 and the fallout of the riots of November 2021.
He further highlighted that the argument of cost relating to hosting both events is just one aspect of it, it is more than that.
“It is not only about the financial cost but also the necessary preparation, logistical requirements which include both domestic and international air, land and sea services that are still not keeping up with current demand. Also the manpower resources needed to ensure that these two events can be completed successfully,” Sogavare stressed.