Week of uncertainty begins

Editorial, Normal

The National, Monday 05th December 2011

PAPUA New Guinea is entering a big legislative week, with the government expected to hand down its postponed budget and introduce the first stage of a bill to cement the role of women candidates for the 2012 general election.
But, by Friday, the Supreme Court may have declared the government of Peter O’Neill unconstitutional, and the year could end with the return of former prime minister Sir Michael Somare.
“(The court’s decision on) Dec 9 is anyone’s guess,” Lowy Institute research fellow Alex Oliver, who is in PNG to conduct a study on leadership, said.
“Either you get a decision that (O’Neill’s election) was
unconstitutional, that there was an unconstitutional step along the way … or you get a decision that it was constitutional,
which seems less likely.
“Or there’s a decision that it is not constitutional, but that O’Neill has already formed a government and, with the June 2012 election pending … we could have a placeholder (O’Neill) government until then.”
The court case, a national first, has become a lens through which every political move is interpreted.
Analysts and political observers say members of the Somare regime and the O’Neill government are positioning themselves for any possible outcome.
Port Moresby’s Ela Beach Hotel, Crowne Plaza and Lamana Hotel are the venues of frequent meetings between government and non-government MPs.
Adding to the heightened political temperature is the 2012 budget, which had been postponed twice.
Backers of Sir Michael have accused O’Neill and Treasurer Don Polye of a K500 million budget blowout in development allowance payments to senior government ministers. The government says the money could be accounted for.
AAP understands the budget is ready to go, although a firm date has yet to be given.
Initially due two weeks ago, it was expected to be K10 billion.
O’Neill has promised free education to Grade 10 and given a commitment to fix some of PNG’s ailing infrastructure.
The second piece of legislation involves a crucial debate and vote on changes to the nation’s laws that will set in stone 22 women’s electorates at the 2012 election.
Parliament voted last month to guarantee the seats to women, but it still needed to pass a “nuts and bolts” law that would define the size of the women’s electorates and how they would be funded.
The narrow window to give that bill its first of two readings before 2012 is closing fast.
Only female MP Dame Carol Kidu says she was told by O’Neill that there would be a vote tomorrow. She is “cautiously optimistic” the first hurdle would be overcome this week.
The Dec 9 court decision would focus on whether O’Neill and his backers – who included former Somare ally and Speaker Jeffery Nape – lawfully declared the prime ministership vacant when O’Neill was elevated in a surprise vote on the floor on Aug 2.
Sir Michael had been in Singapore between late March and early September recovering from three heart operations. Since late March, he has made few public statements. – AAP