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Solomon Islands to Delay Election, Raising New Concerns

FILE - Ships are docked offshore in Honiara, the capital of the Solomon Islands, on November 24, 2018. (AP Photo/Mark Schiefelbein, File)
FILE - Ships are docked offshore in Honiara, the capital of the Solomon Islands, on November 24, 2018. (AP Photo/Mark Schiefelbein, File)
Solomon Islands to Delay Election, Raising New Concerns
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Lawmakers in the Solomon Islands, an island nation in the South Pacific Ocean, voted Thursday to delay their nation’s general election until 2024.

The election had been planned for next year.

Opposition members say the move could be an effort to seize power and some fear it could lead to more civil unrest.

The seven-month delay required a constitutional amendment. Prime Minister Manasseh Sogavare said the move was necessary. He said the nation is holding the Pacific Games sports event next year. Sogavare said holding an election at the same time would be too costly and difficult for the government.

But opposition leader Matthew Wale told lawmakers that the move would cost people their right to vote in 2023.

Wale said, “This bill is a result of a scheme by the prime minister to remain in power for longer than is necessary.”

He said Sogavare “has succeeded in making us the laughingstock of the region, as a country that is prepared to tamper with its constitution for a two-week event, against the clear wishes of its people.”

Opposition members also objected to the way the bill was quickly rushed through Parliament. It ignored the normal process that permits for public submissions.

But Sogavare has more supporters in Parliament than his opponents. He was able to easily get the two-thirds majority he needed for a constitutional change.

Sogavare said the delay would ensure a successful Pacific Games and did not change anything about how the election would run.

He said, “The bill is basically to defer the dissolution of Parliament.”

Many people in the nation of 700,000 remain doubtful of Sogavare’s reasons for the delay. Some worry it could result in more unrest.

Last November, rioting erupted in the capital, Honiara. It began as a peaceful protest against the government’s decision to change diplomatic recognition from Taiwan to China. The protest later became violent. After the riots, three bodies were found in a burned-out building.

The following month, Sogavare survived a vote that could have removed him from Parliament.

Since then, Sogavare has moved to strengthen his nation’s ties with China by signing a new security agreement. The deal has raised concerns among neighboring countries and others including the U.S. They fear the deal could lead to a military buildup in the area.

But Western efforts this year to rebuild relationships with the Solomon Islands have not shown progress. Sogavare was notably not present at a memorial service in Honiara marking a big World War II battle. It was attended by U.S. Deputy Secretary of State Wendy Sherman and other foreign officials.

Then earlier this week, Australian Foreign Minister Penny Wong said her country had offered to pay for the Solomon Islands election to help keep it on time. Sogavare criticized the offer, accusing Australia of interfering.

Sogavare said Wong’s statement showed Australia was trying to influence lawmakers to vote against Thursday’s constitutional amendment. He added it was an attack on the Solomon Islands’ parliamentary democracy. And he said it was direct interference by a foreign government into the country’s affairs.

I’m Gregory Stachel.

Nick Perry reported this story for The Associated Press. Gregory Stachel adapted it for VOA Learning English.


Words in This Story

scheme n. a clever and often dishonest plan to do or get something

laughingstock –n. a person or thing considered foolish

region n. a part of a country or the world that is different or separate from other parts in some way

tamper v. to change or touch (something) especially in a way that causes damage or harm

submissionn. an act of giving a document, proposal, or piece of writing to someone so that it can be considered or approved

defer v. to choose to do (something) at a later time

dissolution n. the act of officially ending a marriage, organization, or agreement

affairs –n. (pl.) work or activities done for business, public or personal purposes

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