From Sydney Morning Herald and AAP
PAPUA NEW GUINEA'S decision to delay national elections by six months has raised concerns in Canberra and prompted questions in Port Moresby about the constitutionality of the move.
A vote in the national parliament, by 63 to 11, in favour of the delay came yesterday with a blunt warning to Australia from the Deputy Prime Minister, Belden Namah, not to interfere.
''Whatever [the Foreign Affairs Minister] Mr Bob Carr says about sanctions, I want to say … do not threaten the independent state of PNG,'' he said.
''You must respect our wishes. You must not intrude into our election process.''
|"Whatever [the Foreign Affairs Minister] Mr Bob Carr says about sanctions, I want to say ... do not threaten the independent state of PNG" ... Deputy Prime Minister Beldan Namah. Photo: Jason South|
The Prime Minister, Julia Gillard, said last night that Canberra was ''disappointed and concerned'' by the delay. She said that ''as a strong supporter of Papua New Guinea, Australia believes elections should be held on time, in accordance with the constitution''.
Last month Senator Carr threatened to consider sanctions against PNG if it abandoned plans to hold elections in June, saying that to do so would create a ''shocking model'' for the Pacific.
Later he said he was speaking hypothetically and Australian officials said assurances had been received from the PNG Prime Minister, Peter O'Neill, that the election would take place in late June as scheduled.
The election postponement followed a vote by parliament on Wednesday to suspend the Chief Justice, Sir Salamo Injia, and another top judge, under a controversial new law that drew a large student protest in Port Moresby and was criticised by veteran politicians as damaging the independence of the judiciary.
The O'Neill government is still facing court hearings on complaints from the former government of the independence leader Sir Michael Somare that it was illegally ousted last year.
Sir Michael was declared to have forfeited his seat through non-attendance while undergoing lengthy treatment in a Singapore hospital.
Officials familiar with PNG elections say a six-month delay appears unconstitutional. The constitution stipulates elections be held within three months before the fifth anniversary of the return of writs from the previous election. This would give at most a few weeks' leeway.
Before the vote, the minister assisting the Prime Minister on electoral matters, Waka Goi, said election funding fell short by about $30 million, electoral rolls were not ready and police were also not ready to provide security.
Mr Namah said polls must be delayed to allow for proper security to be implemented in the Southern Highlands region, where construction is under way to bring natural gas by pipeline to a liquefaction plant on the coast.
But election officials say the rolls are in comparable shape to those used before the last elections in 2007.
Security is a perennial problem in the highlands provinces but has never delayed elections since independence in 1975.
The PNG Electoral Commissioner, Andrew Trawen, recently said the updating of electoral rolls was progressing well and would be delivered on time for polling on the tentative date of June 23.
''Planning, preparing and conducting an election is the sole constitutional duty of the Electoral Commission every five years and we are confident of complete updating the roll and delivering another successful election in June,'' he said.