The Imitation Game
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Solomon Islands lawmakers passed a bill Thursday to delay the next year’s elections, a move that the opposition called a “power grab” by pro-China Prime Minister Manasseh Sogavare, Al Jazeera reported.
The new bill changes the constitution to allow the next general elections to be delayed until 2024. The prime minister said the bill was rushed through the legislature to avoid protests.
Sogavare explained that logistical issues made the delay necessary, noting that the Solomon Islands could not successfully host both the May 2023 elections and the November 2023 regional Pacific Games – for which China is building seven venues and stadiums.
But many opposition politicians countered that the delay was “morally wrong” and questioned the prime minister’s justification for seeking to postpone the vote. Sogavare rejected allegations that changing the constitution was a breach of democratic principles.
The recent controversy comes amid concerns over Sogavare’s close relationship with China and his efforts to steer the Pacific nation away from traditional allies, including Australia and the United States.
In April, the Solomon Islands signed a security pact with China that will allow Beijing to deploy Chinese police to restore social order and protect Chinese infrastructure projects in the country. The pact came following riots last year which saw Chinese shops and businesses in the capital burned down by protesters angry with Sogavare’s government.
The riot and the resulting agreement have put the country at the center of an intensifying geopolitical tug of war between China, Australia, New Zealand and the United States.
On Tuesday, Australia offered to fund the Pacific country’s elections to allow it to take place on time but Sogavare initially rejected the proposal as “foreign interference.”
He later told lawmakers that he would accept Canberra’s offer after parliament passed the bill to delay elections.
Analysts suggested that Sogavare is trying to “string out his reign” and is looking for justifications for why he would be a better president than a candidate from the opposition.