Police call for calm as Papua New Guinea PM deflects vote of no confidence

Opposition politicians accuse the parliament’s speaker of bias as he suspends chamber until September.
By Harlyne Joku for BenarNews
2024.06.06
Port Moresby, Papua New Guinea
Police call for calm as Papua New Guinea PM deflects vote of no confidence Speaker Job Pomat in Papua New Guinea’s Parliament appeals for calm amid uproar over a rejected proposed vote of no confidence in Prime Minister James Marape on June 5, 2024.
Harlyne Joku/BenarNews

Angry scenes and allegations of bias in Papua New Guinea’s Parliament greeted a decision to refer a vote of no confidence in Prime Minister James Marape to the country’s highest court and adjourn the current sitting until September.

The showdown is the latest twist in the opposition’s attempts to unseat the Marape government since the 18-month “grace period” for such motions after the election in 2022 ended in February.

Police called for calm after parliament rose, warning people to ignore “disinformation” on social media. In January the capital Port Moresby was rocked by the Black Wednesday riot that resulted in the deaths of more than 20 people, caused an estimated 1 billion kina (US$260,000) economic loss and left the Marape’s leadership significantly damaged.

His government has been consumed by this latest battle for survival while the country also struggles with the aftermath of a huge landslide two weeks ago in Enga Province that claimed at least 167 lives.

Speaker of the parliament Job Pomat sought the judicial clarification after a parliamentary committee rejected the latest vote of no confidence. It ruled six of 12 names endorsing the motion were incorrectly written, with one putting the surname of Middle Fly MP Maso Hewabi before his first name.

Speaking at a press conference after parliament rose, Marape welcomed the speaker’s decision and asked citizens to question why the opposition kept failing to properly bring the vote of no confidence to parliament.

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Prime Minister James Marape addresses the media after parliament was adjourned to defend his government and the speaker of the house on June 5, 2024. (Harlyne Joku/BenarNews)

“To our people of Papua New Guinea, do not get caught up by the game being played by the opposition because they do not have the numbers,” he told the media.

“It has become apparent that for the fifth time in a row, the opposition has made mistakes in filling a basic form according to the requirements of law and parliamentary standing order,” he said.

“I am happy that the speaker is going to the courts to clarify himself, only the courts will clear whether the Private Business Committee is right or wrong.”

The latest attempt to depose Marape gained momentum when his leader of government business and Finance Minister Rainbo Paita defected to the opposition two weeks ago with 18 members, including several ministers of the ruling Pangu Pati. A number have since returned to the government benches.

Pomat tried to maintain order in parliament amid opposition uproar, shouting accusations of “con man” across the chamber.

“Listen to me please, let me finish, let me finish,” he pleaded. “I am going to the court tomorrow to ask for an interpretation of the committee’s decision. I must work in the best interest of the country,” Pomat said.

When the Supreme Court will consider the validity of the motion is unknown.

Senior opposition member Sir Puka Temu in a point of order declared, “we cannot allow the country to wait. This is a silly paraquel issue.”

“The speaker is a member of the ruling Pangu Parti and the committee is appointed by the government. Speaker, can you tell the people of this country that you are not biased?” Sir Puka asked, calling for opposition members to be part of the committee.

The committee made the same ruling about the validity of the names submitted on another motion of no confidence last week. 

Pomat overrode the committee’s latest decision on the technical deficiencies and put the motion on parliament’s business agenda anyway but was countered with a government dissent motion.

An opposition walk out in protest resulted in government MPs voting 69-0 in favor of its motion in the 118 seat chamber and Pomat then suspended parliament to Sept. 3. 

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Alternative prime minister Rainbo Paita addresses parliament over the ruling against the opposition’s vote of no confidence in Prime Minister James Marape on June 5, 2024. (Harlyne Joku/BenarNews)

Police Commissioner David Manning called for people to remain calm and ignore social media after the adjournment.

“Papua New Guinea has one of the most robust democracies in the world and we cannot let fear mongers try to undermine the freedoms we have in our country,” Manning said, adding “cowards with a computer” stirring up public fear were being investigated.

“There is a lot of fake news and disinformation circulating on social media trying to stir up concerns of civil unrest in relation to the current parliament sitting,” he said in a statement.

“For those that seek to weaponize social media and sow discord, your time before the courts will come.”

Peter O’Neill, a former prime minister and staunch Marape opponent, said in a statement posted on social media after the adjournment that the latest events were a “disgraceful day for democracy.”

“The people of Papua New Guinea have been denied their rights,” he said. “The motion today to have a vote of no confidence in the prime minister was denied on minor technicalities, trickery and is absolutely without merit.

“This is a government now showing its true colors – not caring for the people of Papua New Guinea. It is headed by a prime minister that is not only incompetent and egotistical but fearful.”

For now Marape has the numbers in parliament but the opposition can continue to bring votes of no confidence until another 12-month “grace period” begins before the next general election in mid-2027

BenarNews is an RFA-affiliated online news organization.

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