TESS NEWTON CAIN |
Pacific focus at Shangri-La Dialogue
A plethora of defence and security folks congregated in Singapore for the first Shangri-La Dialogue since the onset of COVID-19. The Pacific islands region was in focus for many. Fiji’s Defence Minister, Inia Batikoto Seruiratu, attended as did Anthony Veke, who is Minister for Police in Solomon Islands.
In his address to the meeting, Minister Seruiratu stated categorically that for his country, the security threat that is top of mind is that of climate change. His comments were very different from much of what was heard, with most focused on US-China competition and the war in Ukraine.
Australia’s Minister for Defence and Deputy Prime Minister, Richard Marles also referred to the Pacific in his address. He reiterated his government’s wish to be seen as a natural partner of choice for Pacific island countries. He also stated the need for climate change to be incorporated into defence policy.
Commission to examine elections in Samoa
After a tumultuous year last year, a Commission has been established in Samoa to examine the conduct of elections.
One of the issues that will be considered is whether Samoans who live outside the country should be allowed to vote. This was something the FAST party (which is now in government led by Prime Minister Fiame Naomi Mata’afa) promised to address during their campaign. It has been a longstanding issue of contention for members of Samoan diaspora communities. They feel that as they provide so much economic support by way of remittances, they should be entitled to vote in elections without having to return to Samoa to do so.
The Commission will also look into the issue of women in the Parliament. Currently, there is a provision for women who are not successfully elected to be included as MPs to achieve 10% representation overall.
More opposition to deferral of elections in Solomon Islands
In Solomon Islands, the controversy over proposals to defer next year’s general elections continues. The Prime Minister, Manasseh Sogavare, has gone to Choiseul, to consult with his constituents on this issue.
Meanwhile, the president of the Solomon Islands Democratic Party (SIDP) has voiced her strong opposition to any attempts to defer the elections and/or extend the life of Parliament. Dr Alice Aruhe’eta Pollard has said that the Manasseh government has no mandate to defer the elections.
The government has put out an awareness pack stating reasons for deferring the elections to 2024. It cites hosting the Pacific Games, lack of voter registrations, and ‘reforms’ as the reasons for the postponement. However, Dr Pollard has said that she does not consider these reasons to be sufficient for such a radical change in electoral practice.
Vanuatu leaders question benefits of proposed constitutional changes
In Vanuatu, questions have been raised about the government’s proposed changes to the country’s Constitution. Last week, the Speaker adjourned Parliament as there was no quorum. MPs are expected to meet again this week to consider the changes put forward by Prime Minister Bob Loughman and his government.
The list of changes has been reduced with some of the most contentious ones having been removed. However, questions continue to be raised as to what the developmental benefits are to such changes as increasing the number of ministries from thirteen to seventeen.
Former Prime Minister, Charlot Salwai, has encouraged the members of his party, which is part of the government coalition, to maintain their boycott of Parliament this coming Friday. He has described proposals to increase the number of ministries and extend the life of the Parliament to five years as ‘bribery’.
Tess Newton Cain is an Adjunct Associate Professor at the Griffith Asia Institute and project lead of the Pacific Hub.