Solomon Islands government seeks to delay election to host games

·2 min read
FILE PHOTO: Solomon Islands Prime Minister Manasseh Sogavare talks to Chinese President Xi Jinping during their meeting at the Diaoyutai State Guesthouse in Beijing

By Kirsty Needham

SYDNEY (Reuters) - A bill to delay elections in the Solomon Islands has been submitted to its parliament, officials said, prompting concern from opposition politicians.

Solomon Islands Prime Minister Manasseh Sogavare's government has said it wants to extend parliament until after it hosts the Pacific Games in November 2023, for which China has donated seven stadiums and venues that are being built by Chinese companies.

The United States and other Pacific nations have expressed concern over the Solomon Islands' security ties with China, which they say have regional implications.

China has also sought to strike a sweeping regional trade and security deal with Pacific islands, including governance exchanges.

The Prime Minister's office said in July the Solomon Islands did not have the resources to host the Pacific Games and hold an election in 2023.

National elections are held every four years, and parliament is due to be dissolved in May 2023.

A bill submitted to parliament and endorsed by the speaker on Monday seeks to alter the constitution and suspend the dissolution of parliament until Dec. 31, 2023, officials said.

An election would need to be held within four months.

Opposition leader Matthew Wale has criticised delaying elections and wrote on Twitter on Tuesday that citizens should "air their views" through parliamentary processes.

"There is concern in churches, business and communities," Douglas Marau, the opposition leader's press secretary, told Reuters, adding it was "nonsense" to amend the constitution for a two-week sporting event. "There have been consultations held and the negative response to the government's plan is very clear."

A change to the constitution requires two-thirds of parliament to support it. It is likely to be voted on next month.

Sogavare switched the Solomon Islands' diplomatic recognition from Taiwan to Beijing in 2019, after being elected that April.

However, the most populous province, Malaita, has opposed ties with China, and an anti-government protest in November 2021 outside parliament led to riots and buildings burnt in Honiara's Chinatown district.

The riot was cited by Beijing as reason for its security pact with Sogavare's government.

The security pact allows Chinese police to defend Chinese projects and restore social order. Honiara and Beijing have denied the pact will allow a Chinese military base.

United States Deputy Secretary of State Wendy Sherman on Monday said the U.S. and Pacific nations would "all watch very carefully to see what happens here".

(Reporting by Kirsty Needham. Editing by Gerry Doyle)