22 May 2012

PNG election on track despite new twist in political impasse

9:26 pm on 22 May 2012

Peter O'Neill and his supporters insist they are Papua New Guinea's caretaker government in the lead-up to next month's general election despite his administration being declared illegal by the Supreme Court yesterday.

The ruling, reiterating the court's December decision that Sir Michael Somare was the country's legitimate Prime Minister, has thrown new uncertainty over the country's lingering political impasse.

While the Somare group's attempt to be sworn in as caretaker government at Government House has so far been unsuccessful, Peter O'Neill's group is attempting to have a special sitting of parliament.

Sir Michael has been forming his administration to see the country through to the June election.

His son, the Angoram MP Arthur Somare says the ruling has restored the integrity of the constitution after Peter O'Neill's coalition controversially removed Sir Michael in August last year, sparking a constitutional crisis.

Arthur Somare says he hopes there are no further attempts to delay next month's polling as Mr O'Neill has been facing significant pressure from within his coalition to do so.

However with the writs for PNG's election signed last week by the Governor-General, the election process is formally underway and Mr Somare says it's important that politicians seek the people's backing.

"This is all about the constitution, it is not necessarily about Sir Michael the person, but the integrity of the constitution has been restored now as a consequence of this court decision, and the correct place to assert that you have the mandate of the people is through a general election."

A member of Sir Michael Somare's government, Sir Arnold Amet, says its new caretaker administration is unlikely to change controversial legislation brought in by the Peter O'Neill government.

It is really a caretaker regime, just to keep the country stable and manage the elections that have begun - the process having begun. So any major decisions really have to wait the new house being elected and the new government being formed.

Two of the five judges abstained from making a ruling, with Justice Bernard Sakora saying that to participate would contradict his oath as a judge.

Peter O'Neill says the fact that two senior judges abstained on the ruling, means that a new bench should have been established for the hearing.

He describes the court ruling as mischievous, coming from a bench which he says is tainted by corrupt practices.

Sir Arnold Amet says Peter O'Neill's response is not what is expected of leaders.

To simply describe our judiciary as being corrupt because a judgement hasn't gone his way is really most inappropriate for a person who holds himself up as a leader and a Prime Minister, our leader.

However, the Chief Justice Sir Salamo Injia has been repeatedly called on by the O'Neill coalition to resign over allegations of misconduct and claims of bias in the hearings into the legality of Mr O'Neill's election last August.

Peter O'Neill says Sir Salamo has stubbornly refused to stand down, bringing the Supreme Court into collision with parliament.

And as a result we now have a ruling that is tainted, biased and not enforceable by law. Therefore we are ignoring that and all agencies of government are ignoring that particular order. And therefore the government is now in caretaker mode until the return of writs.

Meanwhile, signs that police will not let the Somare group into Government House to be sworn in have followed reports that police factions supporting the rival political groups have had a standoff in the capital.

But both sides appear in agreement that the national election must go ahead as scheduled next month.