12 Dec 2011

PNG Supreme Court rules O'Neill election illegal, orders Somare reinstatement

11:38 pm on 12 December 2011

Papua New Guinea's Supreme Court has ruled that the election of Peter O'Neill as Prime Minister in August was unconstitutional, paving the way for the reinstatement of former Prime Minister Sir Michael Somare.

The court found that the parliamentary declaration of a vacancy in the office of Prime Minister on August 2, followed by a parliamentary vote of 70 to 24 that saw Mr O'Neill elected, was illegal.

However uncertainty surrounds the decision amid reports from Port Moresby indicating Mr O'Neill was to be sworn in again as Prime Minister at Government House.

Earlier today, Peter O'Neill's government passed a series of amendments in parliament to legalise his elevation to the top job and the ousting of Sir Michael.

A new law specifies that a Prime Minister can be dismissed if absent from the nation for more than three months.

Sir Michael, before he was dumped, had been absent for five months while he was in Singapore recovering from heart surgery.

It's not clear what impact the court decision will have on the amendments.

Meanwhile, Chief Justice Sir Salamo Injia indicated contempt charges will be brought against Mr O'Neill and his lawyer Philip Ame.

Mr Ame filed a last minute attempt to dismiss Sir Salamo on Friday.

Police have increased their presence at key locations around the capital in anticipation of trouble in response to the political situation.