Solomons says Australian offer to fund election 'inappropriate'
Solomon Islands government accuses Australia of attempting to "influence how Members of Parliament vote" in elections.
The Solomon Islands rejected on Tuesday an Australian offer to fund its next election as "inappropriate", dismissing Canberra's latest effort to strengthen ties with the Pacific nation over its growing concern over the island's rapprochement from Beijing.
In a statement, the Solomons government accused Australia of trying "to influence how Members of Parliament will vote" on an upcoming bill that would delay national polls by seven months.
It comes after Solomons Prime Minister Manasseh Sogavare signed a historic security treaty with Beijing in April, causing significant diplomatic jockeying between China, the US, and its allies, notably Australia.
During an interview for ABC radio on Tuesday morning, Australia's Foreign Minister Penny Wong confirmed the funding offer.
With the vote on an election delay due as early as Thursday, the Solomons government took umbrage at the timing, saying it "was in the process of replying when the Australian Foreign Minister made an announcement to the Australian media."
Because of the hefty costs, Sogavare has advocated that the election should be postponed until after the Pacific Games in 2023.
The Solomons government said it received Wong's offer on September 1 and would respond formally after the election bill was resolved.
While Australia's offer was not disclosed, Sogavare's Secretary Jimmie Rogers had warned the Solomons state TV that the election would cost more than US$49 million. Wong claimed in an interview on Tuesday that Australia's offer was in response to appeals for assistance from the Solomon Islands opposition.
"(It) reflects our longstanding and historical commitment to supporting democracy and democratic processes in Solomon Islands," she said.
The bill to delay the election was "domestically controversial", Wong added, "(but) that's ultimately a matter for their parliament to resolve."
She tried to dispel suggestions that the funding was unusual, exposing further what she called Australian support for recent Papua New Guinea elections.
The Australian government upgraded its travel advice for the Solomon Islands last week, advising residents to exercise "a high degree of caution due to the possibility of further civil unrest" ahead of the vote on the election delay.
Sogavare is likely to visit Australia soon, though details are still being worked out. He recently accused Western media organizations in the Solomons of "spreading anti-China sentiment."
Sogavare's office threatened to ban or deport reporters for "disrespectful and demeaning" coverage, accusing some foreign media of trying to "engineer regime change."