Solomon Islands PM accuses Australia of interference

Manasseh Sogavare and Penny Wong

The Solomon Islands’ prime minister has accused Australia of interference over its offer to help fund an election he controversially wants to delay.

Manasseh Sogavare is seeking to defer the vote – due in mid-2023 by seven months, a move critics say represents a turn towards authoritarianism.

Australia says there is nothing unusual about its offer of assistance.

Relations between the two countries have soured recently as Mr Sogavare’s government grows closer with China.

Australia regularly offers financial and logistical support to Pacific countries for elections, including in previous polls in the Solomon Islands.

But Mr Sogavare says it is timed to influence how MPs will vote on a bill to change the constitution. If passed, the bill would allow the election to be deferred.

“This is an assault on our parliamentary democracy and is a direct interference by a foreign government into our domestic affairs,” Mr Sogavare said in a statement.

Elections are usually held every four years, but the government is trying to delay the next poll until after the country hosts the Pacific Games in late 2023.

Mr Sogavare says the nation does not have the capacity to host both events in one year.

The country’s opposition has called the proposed delay a “power grab” and asked for help from Australia, its largest aid donor.

Protesters have called for Mr Sogavare to step down twice in recent years, including at the last election.

The leader has been under pressure after signing a controversial security pact with China in April.

He has repeatedly criticised countries including Australia over their reaction to the deal, and threatened to ban foreign journalists after “demeaning” coverage.

Mr Sogavare is due to visit Australia and meet Prime Minister Anthony Albanese in the coming weeks.

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