Tuesday 05 Jul 2022 | 07:53 | SYDNEY
Tuesday 05 Jul 2022 | 07:53 | SYDNEY

PNG elections: Violence looms


Annmaree O’Keeffe

24 May 2012 12:46

You've got to hand it to PNG's politicians. They don't disappoint in their ongoing effort to live by the country's unofficial motto: the land of the unexpected. The political process has at times descended into farce and confusion, and the nastiness of this ongoing battle has come at a high cost to PNG's reputation.

Just as the country's voters thought they were finally through the rough waters of turmoil that have churned PNG's political scene since Peter O'Neill (pictured) took over the prime ministership last year, PNG's Supreme Court handed down its decision early this week declaring that O'Neill's government was illegal.

Since becoming Prime Minister in August 2011, Peter O'Neill has had a tenuous hold on government. The opposing political forces led by former Prime Minister Michael Somare have used court challenges and other means, including a failed and badly planned military mutiny in January 2012, to oust the O'Neill Government.

The Supreme Court's decision is the outcome of the most recent challenge, and it comes at a time when PNG's parliament has already been prorogued with elections scheduled to start on 23 June. So efforts this week in the wake of the court decision to get MPs back into parliament in sufficient numbers to vote again on who should be Prime Minister have been thwarted as most parliamentarians are already in campaign mode back in their electorates.

There will be rising doubts about whether the on-again, off-again, on-again elections will even go ahead. 

Earlier in the year, O'Neill and other senior members of his government painted a confused picture about the election timetable, resulting in a decision just last month that the elections would be deferred for six months. But in the wake of public protests, O'Neill made public assurances that the elections would proceed as scheduled.

With the political turmoil refusing to settle, many hopes have been pinned on the June national elections as a way to finally resolve the situation. But a disturbing development in recent months is the emerging partisan divisions within the country's security forces. Together with the legislative pressure and physical threats made against the country's judiciary, there is now concern about how the tensions will play out during the election process.

Today, 24 May, is the closing date for those running in the June elections to get their nominations into the electoral commission. O'Neill's threats of arrest for the three Supreme Court judges who handed down this week's decision are ringing out across the country. The likelihood of anything less than a hostile, violence-ridden and contentious election never looked higher.

Photo by Flickr user East-West Center.