SYDNEY: Australia has criticised Papua New Guinea's decision to delay national elections as disappointing and concerning, with Prime Minister Julia Gillard urging Port Moresby to reconsider.
Papua New Guinea's parliament voted overwhelmingly on Thursday to postpone the polls for six months, with Deputy Prime Minister Belden Namah reportedly warning Canberra should not intrude on the election process.
Gillard said the Australian government, which has previously cautioned against delaying the elections which were due to be held in June, was "disappointed and concerned".
|Australia has criticised Papua New Guinea's decision to delay national elections as disappointing and concerning (AFP/File - Torsten Blackwood)|
"Questions have been raised in Papua New Guinea about the constitutionality of this decision," she said in a statement issued late Thursday.
"While we respect Papua New Guinea's sovereignty, as a strong supporter and long-time friend of Papua New Guinea, Australia believes that the elections should be held on time, in accordance with the constitution."
Gillard said Canberra had received previous assurances from PNG's government that the elections would be held on time and hoped it would now "give this decision further consideration."
Politics in PNG have been in turmoil since late 2011 when the Supreme Court ruled Prime Minister Peter O'Neill's rise to power -- via a parliamentary vote while then leader Sir Michael Somare was recovering from illness in Singapore -- was illegal.
Somare, who has dominated politics in his country for decades, believes he is still the leader of the Pacific nation of 6.6 million people, and fresh elections were viewed as a way of resolving the dispute for good.
PNG's parliament decided on Thursday that elections will be suspended for six months from April 27.
Namah reportedly said that the polls needed to be delayed to ensure proper security in the volatile Southern Highlands and because electoral rolls were incomplete.
But Gillard said Canberra had provided "substantial practical support to enable elections to proceed as scheduled", including 30 Australian Civilian Corps personnel to PNG's electoral commission and an air support mission.
Australia rankled its northern neighbour in March when Foreign Minister Bob Carr said Canberra would "be in the position of having to consider sanctions" if PNG failed to hold elections in mid-2012.
"We'd have no alternative but to organise the world to condemn and isolate Papua New Guinea," Carr told Sky News at the time.
In a speech to parliament Thursday, Namah warned Australia not to threaten PNG.
"Whatever Mr Bob Carr says about sanctions, I want to say this: do not threaten the independence of this country," Namah said, the ABC reported.