BY ALEXANDER RHEENEY
THE ELEVATION OF Papua New Guinea’s controversial national parliament speaker Jeffrey Nape to acting governor general is set to create further uncertainty amongst Papua New Guineans as they countdown to the general election.
Governor general Sir Michael Ogio flew to London yesterday to join other heads of Commonwealth governments celebrate the Queen’s Diamond Jubilee, his absence resulting in the elevation of the speaker to the office in an acting capacity.
Mr Nape played a key role in the formation of the O’Neill government in August last year and has not hesitated in giving his opinion on political issues, overlooking the need to remain impartial as chair of PNG’s 109-seat national parliament.
In the PNG parliament’s battle with the Supreme Court after it ruled last December that parliament’s 2 August 2011 election of Peter O’Neill as Prime Minister was illegal, Nape went to the rescue of the embattled government when he became acting governor general after the O’Neill majority parliament suspended Sir Michael Ogio over his refusal to swear in Mr O’Neill and his cabinet.
The speaker subsequently swore in Mr O’Neill and his cabinet on 14 December – two days after the Supreme Court reinstated veteran MP Sir Michael Somare as PM – and dismissed the latter’s cabinet which was appointed after the court ruled in his favour.
On 19 December Sir Michael Ogio wrote to parliament advising that he recognised Mr O’Neill as Prime Minister, resulting in parliament lifting its suspension and restoring him as governor general.
However the former North Bougainville MP recently declared in an interview with AAP that he will not vet the decisions of either the O’Neill or Somare governments until a new government is formed after the 2012 general election. Polling is scheduled to start on 23 June 23 will run for two weeks.
The governor general’s change in position caught the two rival camps by surprise, particularly the O’Neill government which managed to convene a special parliament sitting last Friday, reportedly without the approval of Sir Michael Ogio as head of state.
Despite questions over its convening, parliament reportedly passed legislation declaring a state of emergency (SOE) in the PNG capital Port Moresby and the Highlands provinces of Hela and Enga, and subsequently giving the O’Neill government more powers.
Details of the SOE and what it entails for Papua New Guineans living in Port Moresby and the two Highlands provinces are yet to be made public.
It is believed Sir Michael Ogio’s refusal to sign off on last Friday’s special parliament sitting and the SOE laws it passed was the hurdle the O’Neill government needed to overcome – Mr Nape’s acting role as vice regal should now see the SOE formalised.
Parliament’s declaration of an SOE came a day after Mr O’Neill’s deputy Belden Namah stormed the Supreme Court with a posse of policemen and soldiers and tried to arrest PNG’s Chief Justice Sir Salamo Injia.
The head judge was later charged with sedition after a standoff with the Deputy PM and his company of policemen and soldiers while bench colleague, Justice Nicholas Kirriwom, was arrested and charged with the same offence with the ABC reporting that the matter has been adjourned to July.