Solomon Islands’s prime minister promises ‘one-off’ move

79
3
Solomon Islands’s prime minister promises ‘one-off’ move

The Solomon Islands prime minister, Manasseh Sogavare, has offered assurances that any changes to the constitution to extend his time in office would be a one-time move, Australia s Pacific minister says.

Sogavare has moved to change his constitution to extend his term in government until after the Pacific Games in November 2023.

Opposition figures in Solomon Islands have branded the move a power grab, saying that elections would still be able to take place alongside preparations for the games.

Australia's Pacific minister, Pat Conroy, who has recently been in Solomon Islands for the anniversary of the Battle of Guadalcanal, a key turning point in the Second World War, said he was assured by Sogavare that the passing of the bill would be a one-off move and the election cycle would return to normal after the games.

The prime minister and language of the bill that ensures that this is passed will be a one-off and the schedule for elections returns to the normal four-year cycle, Conroy told ABC radio on Wednesday.

We believe that having regular election cycles is a key aspect of democratic norms and values that we share across the region.

This is a question for the democratically elected members of the Solomon Islands Parliament and the people of the Solomon Islands, and we are going to respect the internal processes of neighbouring countries. The minister said Australia is continuing to leverage its diplomacy in the Pacific to ward off any Chinese military presence in the Solomon Islands after the strengthening of ties between Beijing and Honiara.

Sogavare, speaking to the Guardian in July in his first media interview since signing the controversial security deal with China earlier in the year 2022, said there would never be a Chinese military base in his country.

Sogavare said that such a development would make the Solomon Islands an enemy and put our country and people as targets for potential military strikes. But he said Australia would call on China for security personnel if there was a gap that Australia could not meet.

If there is any gap, we will not allow our country to go down the drain. If there is a gap, we will call on support from China. We have made it very clear to the Australians, and many times when we have this conversation with them, that they are a partner of choice when it comes to security issues in the region, and we will call on them first. Since the signing of the security pact with China, Solomon Islands opposition figures have warned that it could be used by the government to quash dissent and hold on to power for years to come.

A leaked draft of the deal outlined how Solomon Islands could call for China to send security personnel under broad conditions, including to protect people's lives and property, as well as to provide assistance on other tasks agreed by Celsus Irokwato Talifilu, the premier of the most populous province in Solomon Islands, told the Guardian in April that such a wide range of reasons led to fears of the erosion of democracy.

He said that he was worried that Chinese military or police personnel would put Sogavare in power for a long time. We are a democratic country, of course. When you have a force larger than anyone else in the Solomons, it will be easy for him to support him and his ministers or those who are in government to make sure they come back at the next elections.