By Riyaz ul Khaliq
ISTANBUL (AA) – In response to Australia's offer to assist the South Pacific island nation in holding general elections, Solomon Islands on Tuesday described such offers as foreign intervention aimed at influencing parliamentary proceedings.
The strong-worded statement came after Australia's Foreign Minister, Senator Penny Wong, revealed that her government had recently made an "offer of assistance" to Solomon Islands in order to help the country hold general elections next year.
“We have made an offer of assistance, and it's a matter for Solomon Islands as to whether they respond and how they wish to respond,” Wong said early on Tuesday.
The Solomon Islands government, however, reacted sharply, saying in a statement, “This is an assault on our parliamentary democracy and is a direct interference by a foreign government into our domestic affairs.”
It added that the timing of the Australian government's announcement is "inappropriate."
According to the statement, the Solomon Islands received a letter from the Australian foreign minister on Sept. 6 offering to fund the island nation's general election.
The government of Prime Minister Manasseh Sogavare, however, stated that Canberra’s offer came at a time when a bill to defer the elections for a period of seven months is pending before the island nation’s national parliament for deliberation.
“The bill is set for the elected members of parliament to debate and vote on as required by the constitution of Solomon Islands and not the Australian government to influence,” the statement said.
“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 during the second reading on Thursday 8th September 2022,” Sogavare’s government said in a rare accusation against Australia, a long-time ally of the island nation.
The statement added the government conveyed to Australia “its concern on the conduct of bilateral relations” through the media and the Australian High Commission Office in the capital Honiara.
On August 5, Sogavare's government introduced a constitution amendment bill in the 50-member parliament, seeking to postpone the dissolution of parliament by seven months.
If the bill is passed, the Solomon Islands will reschedule the national general election for the 12th parliament for February or March 2024.
Sogavare's government has said the elections must be postponed until after the Pacific Games in 2023.
Honiara said it was in the process of responding to Canberra's offer when Wong made the announcement through the media on Tuesday morning.
“Solomon Islands is a sovereign country and its parliament must not be seen to be coerced or unduly influenced by ill-timed offers that is directed to a matter that is before Parliament,” the statement said.
It added that a formal response to Australia would be issued once Solomon Islands parliament “has disposed (of) the Constitution (Amendment) Bill 2022.”