PNG parliament erupts in chaos as motions are rejected

7:25 am on 29 May 2019
Papua New Guinea's parliament on Wednesday.

Papua New Guinea's parliament on Wednesday. Photo: Supplied / EMTV

Papua New Guinea's parliament erupted in chaos on Tuesday as the Speaker, Job Pomat, refused two key motions put forward by the opposition in its attempt to remove Prime Minister Peter O'Neill.

It was the first time the government and the opposition had come face-to-face after a three-week break, during which time dozens of government MPs have defected to the opposition at its base at Port Moresby's Laguna Hotel.

Furthermore, the resumption of parliament came just two days after Mr O'Neill announced that he would step down this week, but has since backtracked on that commitment.

However, on Tuesday, the opposition declared former treasurer Patrick Pruaitch as its nominee for Prime Minister in a planned motion of no confidence against Mr O'Neill.

Ahead of the session, the opposition said it had the support of 67 MPs -- a clear majority in the 111-seat house. That appeared to show as MPs filed into the chamber of parliament, with a number of empty green seats surrounding Mr O'Neill.

However, within minutes of parliament opening, decorum had dissolved, many upset with the Speaker's decision to refuse a motion to suspend a standing order, and a motion to have himself removed.

Mr Pomat said he was not constitutionally bound to allow the motion.

"I am only asking asking if this house ... can show to me in the constitution, or in the standing order, this is how we must get rid of the speaker ... let's do it," Mr Pomat said.

The opposition member, Bryan Kramer, was outraged: "Parliament can remove the prime minister, how is it that you can remain and no one can remove you even if you do something wrong?"

After about half-an-hour, the chamber had dissolved into a screaming match. "Can you f**king wait," shouted Fabian Pok, as members argued over various interpretations of the constitution.

After several more minutes, things nearly come to blows, with several MPs leaping from their seats, close to a fist-fight.

He tried screaming "order" to no avail, so shortly before 3pm Mr Pomat finally gave up, adjourning parliament until 10am on Wednesday.

But as the Sergeant-at-Arms carried the mace out to a chorus of screeches, two opposition MPs snatched it from him and tried to place it back on the table.

Peter O'Neill

Peter O'Neill Photo: RNZI / Koro Vaka'uta

As the hustle on the floor continued, Mr O'Neill, who had earlier said "we don't have to have a circus in this house", as he challenged the opposition to table its motion, shuffled out of a side entrance, a grin across his face.

But it wasn't over. Opposition MPs had remained in the chamber, and Mr Pomat was compelled to return to tend to outstanding matters.

Twenty minutes after the adjournment, the bells rung out again, and government members rushed back into the house. It kicked off with another opposition MP, James Marape, moving a motion to remove the government members on the Parliamentary Committee on Private Business, which is the committee that vets and determines the validity of motions.

MPs Allan Bird, Charlie Benjamin, Johnny Alonk and James Donald of the opposition were then selected as the committee's new members

Mr Marape also successfully moved a motion to remove the chairman of the Appointments Committee, Koi Trappe, and replace hime with opposition MP Philip Undialu.

Mr Marape was pushing his luck with the next motion which was against the deputy speaker, to which Mr Pomat explained he would respond in similar fashion to the earlier attempt at the motion against himself.

The opposition subsequently withdrew the motion before parliament was adjourned to 10 o'clock on Wednesday morning.

Pressure on PM to resign

The parliamentary drama comes as the prime minister has been under growing pressure to resign. On Sunday, he said he would step down as prime minister this week.

The prime minister also announced that former Prime Minister Sir Julius Chan would replace him, although by law only parliament can elect a new prime minister.

Furthermore, he is yet to tender a formal resignation with the Governor General. On Monday, he instead filed a Supreme Court application regarding the rules of motions of no confidence, with his office confirming he would delay stepping down until that matter was heard.

The Supreme Court has said it will hear the application on Friday.

The opposition is still looking to table a motion of no confidence against Mr O'Neill this week which, if in order, would likely result in a confidence vote against the prime minister as soon as next week.

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