Papua New Guinea’s Supreme Court has again ruled that Papua New Guinean Prime Minister Peter O’Neill’s rise to power was illegal and that veteran leader Sir Michael Somare should be reinstated, reports said yesterday.
The poverty-stricken, but hugely resource-rich country has been stuck in a political impasse for months, with the two men both proclaiming themselves prime minister — O’Neill backed by the parliament and Somare by the judiciary.
The Supreme Court controversially decided in December that O’Neill’s appointment as premier, while Somare was recuperating from serious illness, was invalid.
The five-judge panel was asked by the justice minister and parliament to rule on the question again in the light of events since then, and reiterated its stance in a split decision, the Post Courier newspaper reported.
It quoted O’Neill saying he will not recognize the latest decision, which comes a month before the country holds elections.
However, Somare’s camp seized on the annoucement.
“He has been restored as the prime minister so he is caretaker prime minister until the writs are returned [after the vote],” his daughter and spokeswoman Betha Somare said.
Of O’Neill, she said: “He is no longer the prime minister, he is just an ordinary member of parliament.”
Somare, who was the country’s first leader after independence, suffered ill health last year and his family announced in June that he had resigned as leader while hospitalized in Singapore.
However, he recovered and returned to challenge O’Neill, who had been elected by lawmakers to the top job, and won the support of judges who said he should be reinstated.
Somare, 76, is expected to be a key figure in the national polls, which are scheduled to begin on June 23. O’Neill, who has the support of parliament, accused the judiciary of bias in its latest decision, pointing out that two of the five justices abstained from taking part in Monday’s ruling.
“This is unbecoming of a Supreme Court bench,” he said in comments quoted in the Post Courier. “There is no constitution that allows for the courts to appoint a prime minister and those privileges remain with the parliament.”