As you enjoy the forthcoming three-day weekend, take a moment to think good thoughts for the beleaguered citizens of Papua New Guinea, who are weathering what could be the nation’s nastiest political crisis in years. Matters started to get out of hand three days ago, when Papua New Guinea’s Supreme Court ruled that former prime minister Sir Michael Somare (above) should be reinstated to his old job. (The Economist has a good backgrounder on the legal issues here.) Somare tried to bum rush the Government House to get himself swore back into office, but he was turned away by soldiers loyal to current prime minister Peter O’Neill.
Then O’Neill and his surrogates countered in most dramatic fashion:
An extraordinary scene unfolded at the Waigani Supreme Court yesterday when Deputy Prime Minister Belden Namah burst into a Supreme Court session presided over by Chief Justice Sir Salamo Injia and demanded he be arrested for treason and sedition.
Mr Namah was flanked by senior ministers in the O’Neill/Namah cabinet, along with members of the Police and Defence Forces…At approximately 1.45 pm Mr Namah and his entourage walked into courtroom three and shouted at the Chief Justice: “Enough is enough” and “I warned you, you are the most corrupt person in this country.”
The Chief Justice lifted his hands up to calm the situation but upon seeing police advancing towards him quickly made his way out through the judge’s entrance into his chambers. His associate Allan Dian tried to follow him and prevent police from entering but was manhandled.
In a statement Mr Namah said, “The Chief Justice is a threat to National Security. He is not an elected leader. He has on many occasions given permanent stay orders to prevent police exercising their constitutional functions. His decisions encroach into Parliament’s powers – he has usurped the powers of the Legislature, Executive and the Governor-General. His judgments have been vindictive and he has not been behaving like a Chief Justice but rather a tyrant, drunk with power.”
You can probably see where this is heading now: A fracture in PNG’s security services, followed by a state-of-emergency declaration. O’Neill and Somare are such bitter enemies that it’s difficult to see how this impasse will be resolved unless one of them is arrested, harmed, or leaves the country. All that is certain now is that Papua New Guinea will suffer more because of its political leaders’ egotism. Same old, same old.