|Monday, 28 May 2012|
A day is becoming a long time in Papua New Guinea politics. Parliament’s Friday vote to implement a state of emergency in Port Moresby, the Southern Highlands and Hela provinces has not been signed off by the Governor General Sir Michael Ogio.
The latest uncertainty followed the Supreme Court’s decision last week to uphold for a second time that Sir Michael Somare was the rightful prime minister.
While Somare has failed to get Ogio’s blessing to become PM, the GG has also refused to entertain the state of emergency declarations from the coalition behind rival PM Peter O’Neill.
“He received that document, but he did not sign it," An Ogio spokesman told AAP.
“Go to the election. That was advised to everybody from the beginning, go to the election."
But Ogio is departing PNG today to head off to the UK for the Queen’s birthday celebrations.
Speaker Jeffery Nape will reportedly become acting GG until June 12.
Nape is already under contempt of court proceedings from the Supreme Court, which could eventually result in jail time. As a key member of the group who ousted Somare, he is likely to rubber stamp anything passed in Parliament.
However, the special sitting on Friday took a few days to organise as parliamentarians need to continue campaigning. Election polling is due to start on June 23.
The extension of the state of emergency to Southern Highlands and newly created Hela province is expected to allow greater government-election security measures in areas around PNG LNG project sites.
If it becomes effective it will provide the O’Neill government’s police commissioner Tom Kulunga vast powers to arrest and detain.
ABC’s PNG correspondent Liam Fox further reported that this government said the state of emergencies extended to “any other places in PNG that pose a threat to national security”.
But there are some fears that armed forces could impact voting outcomes. The coalition behind O’Neill has a highlands power base and O’Neill’s seat of Ialibu Pangia is in the Southern Highlands.
Highlands powerbroker Don Polye, who had considerable sway in the Somare government before he broke away to help form the O’Neill government, has called for both factions to put aside their differences.
“I believe Somare should concentrate on the elections and likewise O’Neill,” he said according to The National.
Meanwhile, the bizarre arrest of Chief Justice Sir Salamo Injia on sedition charges last week by police personally led by Deputy PM Belden Namah has triggered another international warning.
Commonwealth Secretary-General Kamalesh Sharma told AFP that the independence and impartiality of the judiciary, rule of law, and constitutional, democratic governance were core values which must be preserved in PNG.
In late April United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights Navi Pillay warned PNG was on a slippery path to upending constitutional order and undermining the rule of law.
Australian Foreign Minister Bob Carr has more recently urged for restraint from all political parties in PNG.
The state of emergencies declared in Parliament on Friday followed a brief standoff between rival police forces. A group of around 20 police had blocked off access to parliament. Before they peacefully left parliament, its operations commander Colonel Walter Enuma said they had “enough of this chequebook war” according to The Economist.
Polye, Namah, and even Petroleum and Energy Minister William Duma have all signalled they want to become PM.
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