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?

~ by Tavurvur on April 4, 2012.

8 Responses to “O’Neill Chooses the Lesser of Two Evils: Attacks the Judiciary over Postponement of Election”

  1. This is a fascinating story and I’m really enjoying following it through your blog.

  2. Yes Victoria – it never ceases to stop! There have been new twists and turns on a regular basis since we had the original falling out in August 2011.

    The only real solution to this impasse, and all of its progeny, is to go to the polls to elect a new parliament.

    But if O’Neill, Namah and Co are successfully returned to parliament and then government, will the clampdown on the Judiciary continue?

    Time will tell.

  3. Peter O’Neill has lied to the nation. No doubt about that.

    I hadn’t considered the position he may be in regarding choosing the lesser of the two evils – good point!

    I would like the Supreme Court to do its ‘duty and function’ as you put it, and deliver a verdict.

    It should not matter that there is an Election. Justice needs to be served.

  4. The lesser of two evils is still evil. Power corrupts. Mr O’Neill and Mr Namah are good examples of this.

  5. Great coverage T. It’s very unfortunate how O’Neill has conducted himself, after he had come in with so much promise but he’s already proven what he’s made of.

    The general public were able to forgive him for his attack on Somare, they were able to patiently wait throughout the two PM’s issue, but now he’s just gone beyond any sense of respect for our laws and the Constitution especially.

    Not a great PR move for one, but more importantly not a promising attitude towards our laws for people to continue seeing him as our best hope through the next 5 years.

    I would say that it appears that Abal seems to be the only sane leader at the moment.

  6. Politicians will be politicians. Saying one thing one day and doing the direct opposite the very next day. It is what comes out of the heart that corrupts.It just goes to show what the country initially saw was just a smoke screen. Now that the smoke is gone the real motives are being exposed as the fight to control the coffers intensifies. One question I have is that will the simple villager read into this before he decides to vote this year??

  7. It’s quite clear that O’Neill has lied to the people. The simple villager is no longer the “out of the loop” as what they used to be in the past. There will be a significant number of informed votes cast this year.

    I think you’re quite right Manu, the general public would have been able to forgive O’Neill for the Somare episode and the fight for the Prime Ministership.

    But this latest move will have destroyed O’Neill’s reputation like nothing before. It makes you wonder how much pressure his coalition partners are applying to him to get rid of the Justices.

  8. We are fed up with the wranglings in Waigani. The judiciary and the Parlimentarians are all a bunch of power hungry leaders. This is creating a perfect environment for civil uprising. I think the Judiciary and the Government is to blame.

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