Papua New Guinea abandons plan to delay elections after protests

Reuters News
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Posted: Apr 10, 2012 3:43 AM
Papua New Guinea abandons plan to delay elections after protests

(Reuters) - The resource-rich south Pacific country of Papua New Guinea (PNG) has abandoned plans to put off its general election after thousands of people protested on Tuesday in the capital Port Moresby against a delay.

It is hoped the election will help bring an end a drawn-out stand-off between rival political leaders over who should be prime minister.

Less than a week after parliament voted to delay the election by six months, Prime Minister Peter O'Neill and Electoral Commissioner Andrew Trawen said the polls, held every five years, would go ahead on time in June.

Papua New Guinea is an often volatile country of about 6.5 million people with vast mineral wealth, but where 85 percent of its people live a subsistence village life.

Thousands of people attended a rally in Port Moresby on Tuesday to demand the elections be held on time, forcing the closure of government offices and schools in the capital because of worry about security.

O'Neill addressed the rally and said the elections would be held on time despite the parliamentary vote to try to delay the election by six months.

"The parliament does not have the powers to direct the Electoral Commission," he said.

Papua New Guinea has been through prolonged uncertainty since O'Neill took power in August 2011 when former premier Michael Somare was ruled ineligible to be a member of parliament due to illness and a long absence from the legislature.

But the Supreme Court in December ruled Somare be reinstated as a member of parliament, leaving the country with rival prime ministers. O'Neill has the support of parliament and a military mutiny later tried unsuccessfully to have Somare reinstated.

In the past month, O'Neill's government has also passed laws to make it easier to sack judges, setting up a damaging battle between the parliament and the Supreme Court.

U.S. oil giant ExxonMobil is developing a $15.7 billion liquefied natural gas plant in PNG, the country's biggest-ever resource project.

(Reporting by James Grubel; Editing by Robert Birsel)