Solomon Islands leader rejects poll offer

·2-min read

The prime minister of the Solomon Islands has blasted Australia's offer to help fund an upcoming election, branding it "foreign interference".

Manasseh Sogavare also labelled the move "an assault on our parliamentary democracy" in a blistering public statement.

Mr Sogavare wants to push back the election until 2024, arguing his country cannot afford to fund the poll as well as the upcoming Pacific Games.

He is preparing to introduce legislation aimed squarely at delaying the vote.

Australia has offered to fund the Solomon Islands election so it doesn't have to be pushed back.

But Mr Sogovare refused the offer on Tuesday, almost a week after receiving it in writing.

He described the timing of Australia's approach as "inappropriate".

"The timing of the public media announcement by the Australian government is in effect a strategy to influence how members of parliament will vote on this bill," Mr Sogovare said.

"This is an assault on our parliamentary democracy and is a direct interference by a foreign government into our domestic affairs."

The bill is set to come to a vote on Thursday.

Foreign Minister Penny Wong said the offer reflected Australia's "longstanding and historical commitment" to democracy in the Pacific, noting Australia had previously offered support to the Solomon Islands.

Senator Wong said it was "reasonably common" for the government to support elections throughout the Pacific.

Australia assisted the Solomon Islands 2019 election, with the defence force providing logistical support during the polling period.

Australia also helped raise voter awareness and sent a team of election observers at the invitation of the Solomon Islands caretaker government.

Asked if there was concern China may step in to quash unrest caused by election delays, Senator Wong said Australia remained the Solomon Islands' security partner of choice.

"Australia maintains the position that we have for some time that security is the responsibility of the Pacific family of which we are a part," she said.

It follows confirmation warships from Australia and New Zealand will be exempt from a ban on foreign navy vessels entering Solomon Islands ports.

Senator Wong said she welcomed the decision, but wouldn't comment on the US remaining subject to the ban.

"Solomon Islands has indicated publicly they're making a decision on a case by case basis. They are a sovereign nation and that's a matter for them," she said.

"The US has a long history of presence in the Pacific going back to World War II and the US is part of the history of the region, and part of the present and future of the region."

Honiara inked a security pact with Beijing in April, amid rising concern about China's growing influence and aggression in the region.