Australia offers to fund elections in Solomon Islands to avoid delay

CANBERRA – Australia has offered to fund elections in the Solomon Islands after the Pacific nation’s prime minister introduced legislation to delay the vote until 2024, arguing his country couldn’t afford to hold both the election and the 2023 Pacific Games.

Speaking to the Australian Broadcasting Corporation on Tuesday, Foreign Minister Penny Wong said the offer reflects the country’s commitment to supporting “democratic processes in the Solomon Islands”.

She didn’t say how much would be given.

“We have made an offer of assistance and its a matter for the Solomon Islands as to whether they will respond and how they wish to respond,” she said, adding it was a “common” approach for Australian governments.

Australia’s Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade didn’t immediately respond to requests for comment.

The Solomon Islands government said on Tuesday that the timing of an offer from Australia to fund its next election was inappropriate because a Bill to delay the vote was already before the parliament.

“The bill is set for the elected Members of Parliament to debate and vote on as required by the Constitution of Solomon Islands and not the Australian Government to influence,” the government statement said.

Under new legislation introduced by Prime Minister Manasseh Sogavare’s government in August, the Solomon Islands would change its constitution to delay dissolving parliament until December 31, 2023. This means elections would by called in 2024.

With the Solomon Islands due to host the 2023 Pacific Games in November, it would be too expensive for the nation to hold “two large events at the same time”, Sogavare’s office said in a statement on Aug 10.

“The appropriate option is to defer the election and host the games,” it added.

Solomons opposition Leader Matthew Wale said last week the offers of funding from international partners had removed the need for the election to be postponed.

“If that was the case all he needs to do is formally ask donor partners, the democratic ones, who have elections, and they are more than happy to fund elections,” Wale said at a press conference.

Australia and the US have been increasingly concerned about links between the Solomon Islands and China in the wake of the unexpected signing of a security agreement between Honiara and Beijing in April.

No final version of the agreement has been released but a draft copy leaked in March would have allowed Chinese warships safe harbour just 2,000km from the Australian coastline.

The Solomon Islands announced on Aug 29 it would be suspending all naval visits from “partner countries”, after a US coast guard vessel didn’t receive a response to requests to dock in the Pacific nation.

Sogavare told parliament on Monday that Australian and New Zealand vessels would be exempt from the ban. BLOOMBERG