O'Neill overcomes attempts to stall his re-election as Prime Minister

31/05/2012 00:29

PNG's national parliament re-elects Peter O'Neill as Prime Minister.


Papua New Guinea politician Peter O’Neill has been re-elected Prime Minister but not before overcoming what appears to be separate attempts by parliament speaker Jeffrey Nape and his deputy Francis Marus to stall the process.

In a country gripped by a constitutional crisis since last December that saw the appointment of two heads of state, two prime ministers, two army commanders and police commissioners and an unsuccessful army mutiny, the events of recent days would pale in comparison, though the actions of the speaker and his deputy did raise eyebrows and trigger debate on social media.

Parliament was recalled last week to deal with last Monday’s Supreme Court ruling which reaffirmed its December 12, 2011 decision reinstating veteran MP Sir Michael Somare as PM, with Mr O’Neill reportedly arguing the court could not select the head of government and this leadership vacuum consequently warranted the reconvening of national parliament.

The O’Neill government failed to get a quorum until last Friday, ironically on the same morning a group of frustrated policemen overtook parliament in a bid to stop MPs from sitting, and a day after Deputy PM Belden Namah personally led a posse of policemen and stormed into the Supreme Court in Port Moresby to arrest Chief Justice Sir Salamo Injia. Amidst a week of drama the national parliament passed a motion declaring a state of emergency in Port Moresby and the Hela and Enga provinces.

Rectifying the “anomaly’’ in last Monday’s Supreme Court decision appeared to be the next course of action for the O’Neill-majority national parliament and was, according to government sources, supposed to be a formality. But the refusal by the governor general Sir Michael Ogio to vet the recall of national parliament, and sign documents from the O’Neill or Somare governments began to create problems for the effective government led by Mr O’Neill.

However a window of opportunity opened on Monday when the governor general flew to the UK for the Queen’s diamond jubilee celebrations, consequently opening the way for Mr Nape to take his place as acting vice regal and giving the O’Neill government unfettered access to state instrumentalities.

Veteran MP and former PM Sir Michael Somare on the campaign trail for his National Alliance Party (NA).

That was what everyone thought until Mr Marus stunned the national parliament yesterday, when he reportedly recognised Supreme Court’s reinstatement of Sir Michael Somare but then declared PNG’s founding PM missed three consecutive sittings this year, is disqualified as an MP and his non-availability creates a vacancy in the office of the prime minister. His attempts to also stop Mr O’Neill from nominating for the PM vacancy was short-lived after Mr Namah reportedly moved a motion of dissent, forcing the deputy speaker to back off and allow the vote to go ahead which led to Mr O’Neill getting re-elected 56-0.

The national parliament sitting was suspended following Mr O’Neill’s victory to allow the PM-elect, who became the first MP in PNG’s history to be voted thrice as PM in a nine-month period, to be sworn in at government house. A smiling Mr O’Neill flanked by Mr Namah walked into the vice regal’s residence only to be turned away by Mr Nape, who reportedly declared: “I will study the documents and then conduct the ceremony, the swearing-in is suspended”.

Mr O’Neill was finally sworn-in as Prime Minister by the acting governor general after a 3-hour wait that came close to boiling point.

“I want to assure the citizens of this country, I hope this is the last of this saga. Let’s not make a joke of ourselves and go to the elections. My coalition is committed to coming back and providing a government that will deliver in the best interests of our country,” he reportedly told the media.

It is not known if the attempts by Mr Marus and Mr Nape to stall the re-election and swearing-in of Mr O’Neill as PM are linked but the events did not go unnoticed with one social media commentator posting: “There was something about the actions of both the acting speaker and the acting GG (governor general) against O’Neill today that seemed odd”.

While Mr O’Neill has appealed to his colleague MPs to stop “making a joke of ourselves and go to the elections”, his 76-year-old rival Sir Michael charged that the damage had already been done as PNG was now the “laughing stock of the Pacific and the Commonwealth”.

“You have shown no respect for tradition or protocol let alone the rule of law. You have continued to stalk the judiciary since August under the guise of fulfilling the required nine weeks of parliament for the year. Nor does a member of parliament anywhere in the Commonwealth order police to pursue a chief justice in the manner in which Mr Belden Namah pursued Sir Salamo Injia. What shame you all bring to Papua New Guinea,” he said in a statement.

The veteran MP appears unperturbed by events in Port Moresby and is already on the campaign trail for his National Alliance Party (NA), his recent visits to the East Sepik and Madang provinces attracting hundreds of supporters.