AS the stoush between Papua New Guinea’s government and its judiciary – which has triggered the parliamentary move for a state of emergency – continues to hold centre stage in Port Moresby, the rest of the country is already seized by election fever.
Governor-General Michael Ogio was originally appointed with the backing of the government of Michael Somare, but six months ago he endorsed the legitimacy of Peter O’Neill’s government.
He has now refused to authorise either the state of emergency or any further parliamentary sittings.
The Governor-General’s advice to all political requests, his spokesman told AAP, was: “Go to the election.”
Sir Michael was due to leave PNG last night, however, to attend the Queen’s jubilee celebrations and the Speaker, Jeffrey Nape, usually stands in for him.
Nape is a strong supporter of the O’Neill government and would provide any formal authorisation needed.
Last Friday, parliament approved a state of emergency for Port Moresby and for the adjacent Hela and Southern Highlands provinces that have seen violence in previous elections, and are today the construction hubs for the country’s $16.5 billion liquefied natural gas project.
It remains unclear what the state of emergency will involve. Politicians supporting the O’Neill government have claimed it might preclude criticism of the government, which would throw into doubt the capacity to hold constitutionally acceptable elections in the three provinces.
Electoral Commissioner Andrew Trawen said that 3435 candidates would contest the 111 seats, an average of more than 30 a seat, with the outcomes decided by limited preferential voting for the second time.
A record number of women are standing in this election, up from the 2007 total of 107 – but still only 135. Votes will be cast in 30,000 new transparent ballot boxes provided through AusAID. Chief Justice Salamo Injia was charged with sedition last week following a Supreme Court judgment that reaffirmed one of six months earlier that Michael Somare should be reinstated as prime minister.
Sir Salamo will appear in court on July 25, after the national elections starting on June 23 and shortly before elected MPs meet to choose a new government.
Nicholas Kirriwom, one of the judges who supported Sir Salamo, said yesterday he had no political affiliations and had “always maintained my distance from politicians and political parties and rallies”.
He said the recent direct interference by politicians and others in the courts was new to PNG.
“This has happened repeatedly, for months without end, and no sane person could just sit back and continue working with indifference and complacency, as if this was normal, and not be affected by it,” Justice Kirriwom said.
“Surprisingly, I found myself being prosecuted for performing my judicial function.”
He complained of confidential emails to fellow judges being leaked through “deliberate orchestration to have me disqualified” from hearing controversial cases.
Deputy prime minister Belden Namah, who stormed into the Supreme Court last week with police and ordered Sir Salamo’s arrest, said, “The legislature and the executive have always acted with the interests of the country at heart. It is the behaviour of some members of the judiciary that has concerned us.”
He accused Sir Salamo and Justice Kirriwom of “clearly political and vindictive” actions.
“My leadership style is probably new and strange to our country, but I strongly believe time has come for such a style of leadership. If I cannot do it, then the challenge is, who will?”
Foreign minister Bob Carr said the PNG government should focus on the election.
“The writs have been issued, the date is set. The election confers legitimacy and authority on the government,” he said.