Bill to extend Parliament passed
The Constitutional Amendment Bill to defer the dissolution of Parliament to 2024 has been passed in Parliament in the third reading with 37 of the 49 MPs’ voting in support.
The bill required two-third majority, which is 33 Members of Parliament to pass, however, the government polled 37 in the second and third reading votes with Opposition.
In the third reading vote, those who supported the bill 37 members, 10 against and two absentees.
The Act is to alter the constitution to suspend the operation of Section 73 (3) until 31st December 2023, to dissolve the eleventh Parliament on 31st December 2023. This means election will happen in April 2024.
Prime Minister Manasseh Sogavare in tabling the bill in its second reading in Parliament this morning said: “It must be made clear that to the people of Solomon Islands that this constitutional amendment is a sunset amendment. This means the bill is only effective for limited period of time as provided for in the bill. The bill will cease to be effective on 1st of January 2024 following the dissolution of Parliament.”
The Bill was basically to defer the dissolution of parliament, added the prime minister.
“It does not deal with altering the functions Electoral Commission nor does it set the election date,” said Sogavare told Parliament today.
The Prime Minister highlighted the hosting of the Pacific Games as one of the key reasons for the deferment.
He said the games cannot be hosted in 2024 as it is an Olympic year.
Sogavare said it will also allow government to update the voters’ role and out of constituency voting under electoral reforms.
He also defended his government’s decision to go ahead with the bill even though it had not gone through the Bills and Legislation Committee. In response, the Chairman of of BLC and MP for West Are’are John Maneniaru strongly rejected reiterating the government had hijacked the process of his committee.
Leader of Opposition Matthew Wale said the bill is unnecessary because the choice is unnecessary.
“There never was any need to choose between whether to hold the general elections or host the Pacific Games. We can and should hold both in 2023. An unnecessary Bill that tampers with our constitution with a policy matter that can be accommodated within existing legal provisions begs the question why the need for this Bill,” said Wale.
He said although Cabinet made a decision on this matter in February 2021, the Prime Minister has been deliberate to ensure that registration updates for the general elections must not happen in time for a normal election cycle in 2023.
“This is blackmail of the people of this country and their parliament. It is a scheme to place parliament in a no-option position but to approve the postponement of general elections. It is an abuse of process and a hijacking of the people’s right to exercise their vote,” he said.
During the debate, both sides of the house claimed they have the support of their constituents.
The government MPs claimed their people fully supported the extension whilst those in the Opposition said their people opposed to any extensions and elections must be held in 2023.