Michael Somare set to resume office as O'Neill faces contempt charges

Somare back in as Prime Minister
THE Supreme Court of Papua New Guinea is expected to issue contempt charges against Prime Minister Peter O'Neill, with a triumphant Sir Michael Somare saying he will present himself to the governor-general and take the oath of office. The Supreme Court on Monday ruled that the election of Mr O'Neill to the prime ministership by a parliamentary vote of 70-24 on August 2 was unconstitutional and ordered Sir Michael resume the top job.

In doing so, Chief Justice Sir Salamo Injia indicated contempt charges will be laid against Mr O'Neill and his lawyer following a last ditch application on Friday to remove the three-year veteran of the Supreme Court before he had handed down his judgment. The Supreme Court is also expected to hand down a contempt judgment on Mr O'Neill's deputy PM Belden Namah and attorney-general Dr Alan Marat, after the pair tried to suspend the chief justice in November.

The three to two decision by the five-man bench triggered a tense standoff at Government House, where police officers armed with automatic rifles and shotguns kept Mr O'Neill's retinue from entering. At a news conference on Monday night, Sir Michael called on the public to remain calm. "The judiciary has once again upheld our constitution," he said. "My government followed process and waited for the appropriate authority, the judiciary, to make its judgment." The standoff at Government House reportedly escalated to brawls, and automatic gunfire was heard just streets away.

O'Neill to be charged with contempt.
 There have been no reports of injuries, however. Mr O'Neill's supporters remained at Parliament House after being denied an audience with Governor-General Sir Michael Oglio. As the court decision was handed down on Monday the O'Neill government passed a series of retrospective amendments legalising their decision to dump Sir Michael from his post as PM and from his East Sepik electorate, which he has held for 43 years. Sir Michael said he will hold an early morning cabinet meeting at the Ela Beach Hotel in Port Moresby before going to Government House to be sworn in about 1300 AEDT.

A confidence vote in Mr O'Neill last week passed by an overwhelming majority, while 69 out of 109 MPs voted on Monday to reinstate him as PM. Sir Michael's attorney-general Sir Arnold Amet said there are provisions in PNG's constitution for minority government rule. He said he expected MPs to re-evaluate their positions after the governor-general swears in Sir Michael.

AAP

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