UPNG students threaten mass withdrawal

3:27 pm on 13 May 2016

Students at the University of Papua New Guinea are threatening a mass withdrawal from classes unless the Electoral Commission conducts a referendum on campus.

The referendum would allow students to vote on continuing a two-week boycott of lectures spurred by the Prime Minister, Peter O'Neill's, refusal to step down and face corruption allegations.

The students had asked Mr O'Neill to visit the Port Moresby campus a fortnight ago to accept a petition calling for his resignation.

His failure to appear prompted the boycott in which students have been camping at the university and refusing to go to classes.

Papua New Guinea university students.

Papua New Guinea university students. Photo: RNZI / Johnny Blades

Their action has been endorsed by similar protests at other universities and the National Academic Staff Association.

Police have been stationed outside the campus to prevent students demonstrating in the streets of Port Moresby.

Under the constitution of the Student Representative Council (SRC) at the University of Papua New Guinea (UPNG), an independent referendum of the student body must be conducted to legitimise their boycott.

The student leader Hercules Jim said the Electoral Commission would only conduct the referendum if it was requested by the UPNG administration.

Mr Jim said the Vice-Chancellor of the university, Albert Mellam, told students the referendum would be held on Thursday, but it never eventuated.

He said Mr Mellam met the students on Thursday and told them the SRC had to request the referendum from the Electoral Commission.

Mr Jim said the SRC made the request, but the Electoral Commission has referred it to the Attorney General.

The Commission could not be reached for comment.

In the media, Mr Mellam threatened to terminate the academic year if the students do not return to class by Friday, but on Thursday the SRC informed him of their resolution for a mass withdrawal.

"The students have agreed to make mass withdrawal to defend our nation if that is the last resort we have. Because we, the student body and the SRC, have exhausted every avenue we have to secure a referendum to make our protest legal," said Mr Jim.

"The students demanded they will do a mass withdrawal today but with some demands."

"The first one was their tuition fees for next semester must be reimbursed including the thesis scholarship, book allowance and also the tickets to fly home for the fly-in students must be ready with the next 24 hours."

Mr Jim said the students are expecting to meet with Mr Mellam again on Friday evening.

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