The Solomon Islands has rejected an offer by Australia to finance the country’s upcoming election, saying the timing of the public release of the overture was “inappropriate” and accused Canberra of meddling in domestic affairs.
Manasseh Sogavare is seeking to defer the vote – due in mid-2023 – by seven months, a move critics say represents a turn toward authoritarianism.
Australia says there is nothing unusual about its offer of assistance.
Relations between the two countries have soured recently as Sogavare’s government grows closer with China.
Australia regularly offers financial and logistical support to Pacific countries for elections, including in previous polls in the Solomon Islands.
But Sogavare says it is timed to influence how MPs will vote on a bill to change the constitution. If passed, the bill would allow the election to be deferred.
“This is an assault on our parliamentary democracy and is a direct interference by a foreign government into our domestic affairs,” Sogavare said in a statement.
Elections are usually held every four years, but the government is trying to delay the next poll until after the country hosts the Pacific Games in late 2023.
Sogavare says the nation does not have the capacity to host both events in one year.
The country’s opposition has called the proposed delay a “power grab” and asked for help from Australia, its largest aid donor.
Protesters have called for Sogavare to step down twice in recent years, including at the last election.
The leader has been under pressure after signing a controversial security pact with China in April.
He has repeatedly criticized countries including Australia over their reaction to the deal, and threatened to ban foreign journalists after “demeaning” coverage.
Sogavare is due to visit Australia and meet Prime Minister Anthony Albanese in the coming weeks.