O’Neill Chooses the Lesser of Two Evils: Attacks the Judiciary over Postponement of Election
On Wednesday, the PNG parliament finally voted to suspend Chief Justice Sir Salamo Injia and Justice Nicholas Kirriwom – following Sir Salamo’s refusal to disqualify himself from overseeing the Supreme Court hearings into the legitimacy of the current government.
Parliament’s suspension directly follows repeated assurances from Prime Minister Peter O’Neill that the Judicial Conduct Act 2012 would be deferred for nine months to allow the Constitutional Law Reform Commission to consult with the people of Papua New Guinea.
Presumably, the deferment of the implementation of the Act meant that this particular piece of legislation would not be used or acted upon. Disappointingly, those assurances have proven to be false within only a matter of days. Instead we have now witnessed the latest move being played out on the chessboard of what has become a fierce and unsavory battle between the Executive and the Judiciary.
It is difficult to describe Peter O’Neill’s usage of the Judicial Conduct Act on Wednesday in any other manner, except quite simply, that he has misled the people of Papua New Guinea.
It is quite likely that O’Neill will try to rebut accusations of misleading the public by reaffirming his support for the Act to still be reviewed, but as is obvious, the actual utilization of the Act has now made his initial late commitment morph into a hollow promise.
This new development will not be received well by PNG’s increasingly influential NGO’s, growing community-based organisations and tertiary students.
It is safe to assume that political expediency has played a role in O’Neill’s latest hand. With General Election 2012 only a matter of weeks away, the pressure on O’Neill to hold together a battered and bruised government coalition has been immense.
His coalition partners’ key goal right now is to maintain control of the government’s purse, its institutions and resources, including man-power, to ensure that PNG Election 2012 is safe, free and fair – and also, that the chessboard is set in their favour.
This was the same motivating factor which saw the remnants of Sir Michael Somare’s National Alliance Party fight tooth and nail over who was the legitimate Prime Minister. As the impasse progressed, those Somare supporters not on the Grand Chief’s front bench realized that time was not on National Alliance’s side, and a steady trickle of MPs decided to leave for greener pastures.
All of these MPs have since joined Peter O’Neill and the former Opposition (Bart Philemon and Sir Mekere Morauta) in Government, with two former National Alliance stalwarts, Dame Carol Kidu and Sam Abal forming the current Opposition.
The risk of Chief Justice Sir Injia Salamo and the Supreme Court bench ruling against O’Neill and in favour of Somare, on the issue of the constitutional validity of the retrospective removal of Somare as an MP and thus his eligibility to be Prime Minister, particularly at this crucial moment in time leading up to General Election 2012, was too great for Peter O’Neill to ignore.
Despite constant warnings of postponement, O’Neill’s latest move reaffirms the fact that General Election 2012 will go ahead as scheduled.
To some degree, it seems that Peter O’Neill has chosen, in his mind, the lesser of the two evils: his personal support for the suspension of the Chief Justice and other members of the Judiciary; over his deputy’s public request for the postponement of the election.
The suspension of the Chief Justice and other members of the Judiciary was always O’Neill’s best move in what has become a quagmire of court-orders and political bickering. The furor from this latest decision will be significant, but more importantly for O’Namah, it will chew up valuable time and allow the government to crucially remain in control in the lead up to the election.
It is important to note that the Supreme Court has yet to make a ruling on the legitimacy of the current government. Duty and function dictates that this decision must be made prior to the results of General Election 2012 being announced, otherwise the decision is void.
Logically though, how helpful will any Supreme Court decision be to the national interest, when the election is three weeks away, and a functioning central government must be in place and prepared to direct and manage the nation through the most important election in the history of PNG?