O'Neill government coalition partners in nervous wait for 'new PM'

30/05/2012 09:53

A nervous wait for PNG's politicians after acting speaker Francis Marus declares PM vacancy.



There is disquiet among the O’Neill government’s coalition partners as Papua New Guinea’s politicians wait for today’s special sitting of national parliament to elect a new Prime Minister.

The country’s caretaker government, led by parliament-elected PM Peter O’Neill, has put forward the incumbent as their nominee for PM after acting speaker Francis Marus surprisingly declared the office vacant yesterday.

However political sources in Port Moresby say there is disquiet among coalition partners because there is no guarantee Mr O’Neill’s controversial and ambitious deputy Belden Namah, who has publicly announced his desire for the top job, will back the PM who toppled veteran MP Sir Michael Somare in August last year.

State broadcaster National Broadcasting Commission (NBC) reported last night that the acting speaker told parliamentarians he recognised last Monday’s Supreme Court ruling affirming its December 12, 2011, which reinstated veteran MP Sir Michael Somare as MP. However, according to Mr Marus the former PM missed three consecutive sittings of parliament this year and is automatically disqualified as an MP, thereby nullifying last week’s high court decision which reinstated him as head of government.

However PNG constitutional law expert Dr John Nonggorr told the ABC that only the courts had the powers to declare a vacancy in the office of a parliamentarian and not PNG’s national parliament.

“What happened on the 2nd of August in 2011, when parliament passed a motion saying that there was a vacancy in the office of the Prime Minister when Sir Michael Somare was taken ill and was hospitalized in a hospital in Singapore, was unconstitutional and the Supreme Court said so in its first decision. Now what has happened today that parliament has passed another motion, saying that the office of Prime Minister is vacant is itself followed the same path – as what has happened on the 2nd of August so it is unconstitutional as well for the same reasons,” he said.

While PNG’s national parliament will reconvene at 10 am today (PNG Time) to elect a new prime minister, Dr Nonggorr added that there was no basis to recall parliament as there was no emergency and any decisions made by the 109-seat assembly will be deemed illegal.

“An emergency is described in the constitution as arising in a number of limited situations: one is where there is declared war between Papua New Guinea and another country or imminent danger of war; another is natural disasters; and the third category where there is any action or threatened action that brings into question the safety of the public of supplies and services essential to life. None of those three situations arose; the decision given by the Supreme Court recently reinstalling Sir Michael Somare as Prime Minister is not an emergency coming within the provisions of the constitution on emergency, and therefore the sitting itself is in breach of parliamentary convention, it is irregular”.

PNG’s eligible voters will go to the polls next month but the constitutional crisis, which has gripped the nation of 7 million people since last December, continues to fester with new twist and turns that has impacted on the country’s police and army and the judiciary.

The elevation of national parliament speaker Jeffrey Nape as acting governor general, due to the absence of vice regal Sir Michael Ogio, has also created uncertainty due to the critical role he has played in “legitimizing” the O’Neill government’s hold onto power.