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O’Neill wins confidence vote

Saturday 23 July 2016 | Published in Regional

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Positive vote for PNG PM unlikely to end unrest

PAPUA NEW GUINEA – Papua New Guinea Prime Minister Peter O’Neill has survived a vote of no confidence in the wake of protests calling for his resignation.

The no-confidence motion was denied, 85 votes in his favour to 21 against – well short of the 56 votes needed to unseat the incumbant leader.

He had been forced by the Supreme Court to face the vote brought on by opposition MPs, whom he blames for protests calling for his resignation.

The no confidence motion brought to a head more than two years of civil disobedience, court battles surrounding an anti-corruption investigation.

The vote is unlikely to end months of political upheaval.

O’Neill has been fighting a warrant for his arrest on official corruption charges for two years, saying the allegations against him are “politically motivated”.

O’Neill earlier described the vote of no confidence as a waste of time and money.

During the debate on the motion, his government was accused of corruption, interfering with the processes of Parliament and not listening to the people.

Deputy Opposition Leader Sam Basil brought the motion against O’Neill.

“To make the wrong decision here would be a mistake,” he said. “Today it is up to us on the floor to make a change.”

Basil zeroed in on the long-running investigation: “We can say that O’Neill avoids any chance to prove himself innocent or for others to show him guilty.”

He also criticised Mr O’Neill’s handling of an economy showing serious fissures. He said the O’Neill government inherited an economy that was on the rise, but, “since 2014, the prime minister’s short-sighted and reckless fiscal practices have destroyed that growth”.

Ben Micah from the People’s Progress Party, who until last Friday was O’Neill’s energy and resources minister before he defected to the opposition, told parliament the government’s “days were numbered”, despite the outcome of the vote.

“Today you can hold your numbers, but you cannot run away from the truth that your government is not going to last long,” he said.

“And you know why it is going to collapse? Because it is full of men and women who are not telling the truth.”

In the government’s response, Finance Minister James Marape defended the prime minister’s leadership, which he called one of the greatest in the country’s history, and accused the opposition of trying to create instability through a “malicious” motion.

“It seems that the modus operandi of our friends on the other side of the house is to cause chaos, confusion, strife, disorder and emotion in society, let alone in this parliament.”

He said the opposition’s efforts to bring the motion of no-confidence had impacted Papua New Guinea’s international image.

“Investor confidence has been impacted by headlines on the media and social media,” he claimed.

Morobe province Governor Kelly Naru told the parliament there was an election in nine months so it made no sense to change leadership now.

“If the performance of this government, or this prime minister is wanting, it is for the people to make that call for change,” he said.

“At this point of time, what will the alternative government achieve within a short period of time?”

PNG Resource Governance Coalition head Martyn Namorong urged protesters to respect the decision in order to avoid a further descent into chaos and violence.

“I’m a little bit deflated personally, but I respect the decision of parliament,” he said.

“Papua New Guineans have suffered a lot more than the politicians, and we should not create more suffering for ourselves.”

O’Neill’s hold on power is unlikely to satisfy thousands of students and other public workers from across the country who have been protesting against his rule for weeks, creating a new level of instability in a country used to political crises.

Leaders of groups urging civil disobedience have indicated they plan to continue their protests.

The opposition has exhausted its final attempt to remove the O’Neill government ahead of next year’s election, as a one-year amnesty that prohibits motions of no-confidence is about to come into effect.

- PNC sources