Sir Michael Somare will have to wait until Tuesday to see if the National Court of Papua New Guinea will grant an injunction against his dismissal from parliament.
After a day of legal wrangling on Thursday, Judge Allen David adjourned the matter until 1.30pm (AEST) on September 20, half an hour before parliament is scheduled to resume.
The former prime minister is petitioning the court to rule his dismissal on September 6 “null and void”, erasing the decision that saw him dumped from the East Sepik seat he’s held for more than 40 years.
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Sir Michael’s lawyer Greg Egan argued Speaker of the House Jeffery Nape acted against parliamentary procedure when he dismissed Sir Michael for missing three consecutive sittings of parliament while he was in Singapore recovering from heart surgery.
Egan said Sir Michael did not miss three sittings, only two in June and August, because he was granted leave to miss a May sitting.
“What we have here is really a very simple application for an interim injunction to stop the speaker from not allowing Sir Michael his right from sitting,” Egan said.
Lawyers representing Nape, current prime minister Peter O’Neill and the clerk of parliament petitioned to have the matter thrown out of the National Court, arguing it would be dealt with in an ongoing Supreme Court case into the legitimacy of O’Neill’s elevation to the top job.
The National Alliance – a political party formed by Sir Michael – is arguing in the Supreme Court that O’Neill and Nape acted illegally in declaring the prime ministership vacant on August 2.
O’Neill was elected as prime minister of a new government by a parliamentary vote of 70 to 24 on the same day.
Sir Michael had been absent from the country since mid April after undergoing three heart operations in Singapore.
He returned to PNG in early September in an attempt to head off the vote to oust him.
He flew back to Singapore on Thursday for a scheduled medical check-up and it is not known if he will return next week.
Sir Michael’s departure and the National Court action come on the eve of PNG’s independence day this Friday, which marks 36 years since the nation gained sovereignty from Australia.
It will be the first PNG independence day without Sir Michael, the man known officially as “The Grand Chief” and colloquially as “the old man” and “father of the nation.”
After serving as PNG’s chief minister, he became the new nation’s first prime minister in 1975 and returned to the role again in 1982, serving until 1985.
He was re-elected in 2002, and again in 2007, becoming PNG’s first prime minister to serve a full five-year parliamentary term.