New twist in Papua New Guinea power struggle

Governor-general reverses former prime minister’s reinstatement and backs rival in bid to end months-long deadlock.

Papua new guinea political crisis
Somare, left, told reporters on Tuesday that he was not conceding defeat [AFP]

Papua New Guinea’s political power struggle has taken a fresh twist with the country’s governor-general saying he had been wrong to reinstate Michael Somare as prime minister and would instead recognise his rival Peter O’Neill’s claim to the position.

The two men have been vying for the post since August when Somare was removed from office while receiving medical treatment abroad in a parliamentary vote orchestrated by O’Neill.

Michael Ogio, the governor-general who represents Papua New Guinea’s head of state Queen Elizabeth II, originally backed Somare after the supreme court ruled he had been illegally removed from office.

But on Monday, Ogio sent a letter to parliament saying bad legal advice had led him to incorrectly reinstate Somare as prime minister.

“Any decision to swear in the Somare government in law is wrong and invalid,” the letter said. “The advice I received was wrong. I recognise the election of Peter O’Neill as prime minister.”

Ogio had come under fire for his support for Somare with parliament passing retroactive legislation recognising O’Neill as leader and then voting by a majority to suspend Ogio and replace him temporarily with Jeffery Nape, the speaker. Nape then swore in O’Neill as prime minister.

After Ogio indicated he was switching sides on Monday, the parliament reinstated him as governor-general, prompting O’Neill to declare that the crisis was over.

“Parliament is the place where we make governments and where we change governments,” he told reporters. “Now that the crisis is over, I urge all parties to work together so that we can prepare for the fair and free elections in 2012.’

But Somare told the Australian broadcaster ABC on Tuesday that he was not conceding defeat and was seeking a meeting with O’Neill.

“The Supreme Court has taken a decision and installed my government back in office,” Somare told ABC. “We’re trying to get our politics sorted out here. We’ve made an attempt to talk to Peter O’Neill, but so far we have not got any response.”

Papua New Guinea has a turbulent political history, which has seen governments in the past toppled as legislators change party allegiances frequently.

The situation has prompted international concern, with Kevin Rudd, the Australian foreign minister, calling it “unknown terrain” for Papua New Guinea. “We don’t want to see blood on the streets,” he said.

Australia shares an important trade relationship with Papua New Guinea, a former Australian territory rich in mineral resources including oil, gold and copper, and crops such as coffee and cocoa.

Source: News Agencies