Solomon Islands officials said on Tuesday, that Prime Minister Manasseh Sogavare has submitted to parliament a bill proposing a change to the constitution that would delay next year’s scheduled election.
Sogavare said he wanted the delay because the country did not “have enough funds” to host both the Pacific Games and an election in the same year, but his detractors see the move as continuing a trend to growing autocracy under his rule.
Western countries, meanwhile, are concerned that Sogavare’s close ties to China — which donated seven stadiums and venues that are being built by Chinese companies for the Games — pose a military threat in a strategically important global region.
What has Sogavare proposed?
Parliament has been presented with a Constitution Amendment Bill that would delay the dissolution of the current parliament until December 2023, meaning elections would be postponed at least until 2024.
Under the current constitution, national elections in the Solomon Islands are held every four years, and parliament is due to be dissolved in May 2023.
The prime minister’s office said in July that the Solomon Islands did not have the resources to host the Pacific Games and hold an election in 2023.
Two-thirds of the parliament would have to support the amendment for it to be adopted. A vote on the bill is expected next month.
Sogavare’s critics see the proposal as another step on the road to autocracy since Sogavare took office for the fourth time in 2019.
Their fears have grown since the government recently moved to muzzle the country’s public broadcaster.
Why is the West concerned?
Western countries have been observing the situation in the Solomon Islands with some anxiety after Sogavare signed a security pact with Beijing last year.
According to a leaked draft, the pact would allow Chinese security forces to be called in to put down anti-government protests such as those late last year in the capital, Honiara.
Those protests were triggered largely by Sogavare’s decision in 2019 to switch the Solomon Island’s diplomatic recognition from Taiwan to Beijing.
Western powers fear that Sogavare could give Beijing a military foothold in the strategically important region in exchange for its security help.
Honiara and Beijing have both denied, however, that the pact will allow a Chinese military base as has been rumored.
The Solomon Islands were the scene of one of the decisive battles of World War Two in the Pacific, the Battle of Guadalcanal, which was the first major land offensive of Allied forces against the Empire of Japan.
Sogavare was criticized by US officials and local media for failing to attend a dawn service on Sunday organized by the US to commemorate the 80th anniversary of the commencement of the battle.