Solomon Islands Prime Minister Manasseh Sogavare has assured that any changes to the constitution to extend his term will be a one-time decision, Australia’s Pacific Minister said.

Sogavare decided to amend the constitution to extend his term in government until after the Pacific Games in November 2023.

Opposition figures in the Solomon Islands called the move a power grab, saying elections could still take place alongside preparations for the games.

Australian Pacific Minister Pat Conroy, who recently visited the Solomon Islands for the anniversary of the Battle of Guadalcanal, a key turning point in World War II, said he had been assured by Sogavare that the adoption of the bill would be unique. move and the election cycle would return to normal after the games.

“We welcome the Prime Minister’s assurance and the wording of the bill which ensures that if passed it will be unique and that its election calendar returns to the normal four-year cycle,” Conroy told the radio. ABC Wednesday.

“We believe that having regular election cycles is a key aspect of the democratic norms and values ​​that we share across the region.

“Ultimately this is a matter for the democratically elected members of the Solomon Islands parliament and the people of the Solomon Islands and we will respect the internal processes of neighboring countries.”

A Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade spokesperson said Australia is partnering with the Solomon Islands Electoral Office to “support electoral reform and administration, voter education and women’s participation in the political process. and that, although they have not received a request for additional election support, “if requested, we would consider such a request”.

The minister’s comments come as Australia continues to leverage its Pacific diplomacy to stave off any Chinese military presence in the Solomon Islands following the strengthening of ties between Beijing and Honiara.

Speaking to the Guardian in July in his first media interview since signing the controversial security deal with China earlier in 2022, Sogavare said there would never be a Chinese military base in his country. country.

Sogavare said such a development would make the Solomon Islands an “enemy” and “make our country and our people targets for potential military strikes”.

He said Australia remained the ‘security partner of choice’ for the Solomon Islands, but his government would turn to China for security personnel if there was a ‘gap’ that Australia could not. not fill.

“If there is a gap, we will not let our country go down the drain. If there is a discrepancy, we will call on China’s support. But we’ve made it very clear to the Australians, and repeatedly when we have this conversation with them, that they’re a partner of choice…when it comes to security issues in the region, we will call on them first.

Since signing the security pact with China, opposition figures in the Solomon Islands have warned that it could be used by the government to stifle dissent and retain power for years.

A leaked draft of the agreement spelled out how the Solomon Islands could ask China to send security personnel under terms and conditions, including “to help maintain social order, protect people’s lives and property, provide humanitarian aid, conduct disaster response or provide assistance on other agreed tasks”.

Celsus Irokwato Talifilu, a key adviser to the Suidani, the premier of the Solomon Islands’ most populous province, told the Guardian in April that such a wide range of reasons raised fears about the erosion of democracy.

“My main fear is [Chinese military or police personnel] put [Sogavare] in power for a long time,” he said. “People say we are a democratic country, of course we are. But when you have a greater strength than anyone else in the Solomons, it will be easy for him to use that strength to support him and his ministers or those in government to make sure that they return to the next elections.