Friday, April 27, 2012

PNG prime minister averts national strike

By Eoin Blackwell, AAP Papua New Guinea Correspondent

Papua New Guinea Prime Minister Peter O'Neill has averted a national strike, as he pledges national elections will go ahead as scheduled.
Mr O'Neill has told a gathering of civil society groups, including the PNG Trade Union Congress, the employers federation, churches and NGOs, his government's controversial new laws investing more power in MPs had been stayed by the court, and it was up to a new government to sort them out.
"I assure all Papua New Guineans and our international partners that this government stands ready to deliver a free and fair election," he said in a statement.
"The motion in parliament to defer elections for six months was an expression of frustration by members of parliament at the electoral commission's failure to have the common roll updates ready on time."
The Port Moresby-based Papua New Guinea Post-Courier carried the news with the headline "All Is OK Now" above a picture of the PM with the civil groups.
As well as the government's controversial April 2 vote to delay the June election by six months, parliament has passed a series of laws aimed at, critics say, reining in the power of PNG's courts.
These include the passage of the Judicial Conduct Act 2012, which gives parliament the power to suspend judges, and the Supreme Court Amendment, which spells out stricter guidelines for judges.
All of those laws have been challenged in the court and a stay issued on them, Mr O'Neill said.
"These laws that we passed were seized by the courts and have injunctions over them," he said.
"Therefore, the new government that comes in after the elections can take this matter up," he said.
"Our concerns now is to go to the elections and allow the people to choose leaders whom the believe will represent them well in parliament."
The government is however investigating the reappointment of Electoral Commissioner Andrew Trawen, and Mr O'Neill has frequently attacked his performance because the common rolls are incomplete.
The election date is set by the electoral commissioner, who must go to the governor-general to dissolve parliament.
The Trade Union Congress had urged its members to begin disrupting services such as electricity and water delivery because, said general secretary John Paska on Monday, the government was threatening the constitution.
"What we have at the moment is a government that is moving towards a dictatorial regime," he told AAP.
"All that needs to happen now is for them to formalise it."
However by Thursday morning, before the meeting with the PM and after Monday's planned mass protest failed to eventuate after police said organisers had not met the proper safety requirements, Mr Paska changed his tune.
"Right now they are calling me enemy," he told NBC Radio, referring to press statements from the PM's office.
"But we are friends, we are all friends. They are probably swearing at me right now."
As Mr Paska spoke, AAP fielded calls from contacts concerned over violence on the streets of Port Moresby.
Businesses closed their doors on Monday and Tuesday in anticipation of violence.
Two peaceful protests have been held against the government in Moresby since late March. There were no signs of political unrest on Thursday, and most businesses had reopened their doors.
Meanwhile, Deputy Prime Minister Belden Namah has denied he was the architect of the vote to delay the election and says he will challenge in court this week the validity of the electoral roll in parts of his Vanimo-Green electorate

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