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Australian, New Zealand defense forces supporting Solomon Islands elections

Tom Abke

International partners including Australia, New Zealand and the United Nations are providing security, logistical and other assistance to support the Solomon Islands conduct national elections in April 2024. In addition to defense and police personnel, Pacific neighbors are contributing financial assistance to the island nation.

Almost 150 of the nearly 1,000 islands, atolls and reefs that comprise the nation of 720,000 people are inhabited, presenting logistical challenges to holding national and provincial elections, which occur simultaneously. The Pacific Ocean archipelago is scattered over more than 850,000 square kilometers.

About 300 police personnel from Australia, Fiji, New Zealand and Papua New Guinea will support the Royal Solomon Islands Police Force (RSIPF), according to the Fiji-based Pacific Islands News Association (PINA). Additionally, the Australian Defence Force conducted training in March 2024 for more than 100 RSIPF officers.

“Participants have come away with increased capability in border operations, water mobility and public safety,” Solomon Islands Assistant Police Commissioner Evelyn Thugea told PINA. “These are crucial skills for our everyday work but are also vital ahead of the RSIPF national general election operation.”

Australian police also supported the RSIPF during the Pacific Games in the Solomon Islands in late 2023, which involved about 5,000 athletes from two dozen nations. Honiara also requested Canberra’s support during the elections.

The Royal New Zealand Navy sealift vessel HMNZS Canterbury deployed to the Solomon Islands in late March with task force personnel and two NH90 helicopters, the New Zealand Defence Force reported. The helicopters will transport election officials and supplies throughout the country at the request of the Solomon Islands Electoral Commission.

The election season began in late February with high school students and others walking through Honiara to raise awareness. Sponsors from the U.N. and the Australian and New Zealand embassies attended the event, which was part of a project to “bolster the sustainability and credibility of electoral processes … [and] advance women’s political representation in the country,” according to the U.N.

Australia’s Foreign Affairs and Trade Department provided more than $550,000 for observation, monitoring and assessment of the election process, the department stated. The Solomon Islands National University and the Australian National University are implementing the initiative.

Wellington is providing $4.3 million for logistical assistance, training civic coordinators and educators, hiring and preparing poll workers, and establishing an elections operation center, according to the New Zealand High Commission in the Solomon Islands.

“This is an excellent opportunity for our personnel to work again with the Solomon Islands’ government and alongside Australian counterparts in support of regional peace and security,” New Zealand Foreign Affairs Minister Winston Peters said in a statement. “It demonstrates New Zealand’s commitment to a resilient democracy in Solomon Islands and the wider Pacific region.”

Tom Abke is a FORUM correspondent reporting from Singapore.

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