Somare is back

Main Stories, National

The National, Tuesday 13th December 2011

CONFUSION reigned last night when it appeared the country had two prime ministers – Sir Michael Somare and Peter O’Neill.
Sir Michael was reinstated as prime minister by a 3-2 Supreme Court decision yesterday which declared the election of Peter O’Neill on Aug 2 as null and void.
The court also voided his Sir Michael’s ouster as member for East Sepik.
A few minutes after the court decision, parliament voted 79-0 to retain O’Neill as prime minister.  But he was denied access to Government House to be officially sworn in by Governor-General Sir Michael Ogio.
Speaker Jeffery Nape said O’Neill’s election stemmed from two recent parliament decisions. The first decision last Friday rescinded the leave of absence granted to Sir Michael in May. This had the effect that he had now missed three consecutive sittings of parliament and would, therefore, stand dismissed as the member for East Sepik.
The second referred to yesterday’s amendment to the Prime Minis­ter & NEC Act which, among others, contended that should a prime minister absent himself from the country for three months, which Sir Michael did while on medical leave, a vacancy would arise in the
office of the prime minis­ter.
Declaring that these actions created a new vacancy regardless of the court decision, parliament on a nomination from Anglimp-South Waghi MP Jamie Maxtone-Graham elected O’Neill unopposed by 69 votes to nil.
While the court decision stated that all subsequent decisions by the O’Neill government stands voided, it is uncertain whether parliament was included as this would have an important bearing on its actions last Friday and yesterday, which led to the re-election of O’Neill yesterday.
This confusion unfolded later in a tense drama outside Government House last night when a police contingent, headed by senior police officers Fred Yakasa and Joseph Tondop, held off the O’Neill convoy from entering the Government House for the swearing-in cere­mony.
Police Commissioner Tom Kulunga was dispatched to the Government House soon after that but, in the end at 8.30pm, the governor-general’s official secretary informed police at the gate that Sir Michael Ogio had retired for the day and will not perform any official duty until today.
A policeman said a court order was deli­vered earlier in the afternoon to Government House not to entertain any swearing-in ceremony which led to the police move to prevent any ceremony taking place last night.
Police manning the blockade said there was confusion as there were no proper instructions from government lawyers as to what the real situation was last night or who really was in charge.
The stand-off was still maintained at 9.30 last night.
The remnants of the Somare regime last night met and announced a caretaker cabinet.