Pacific News Minute: PNG Prime Minister Resigns . . . Or Does He?

May 28, 2019

Prime Minister Peter O'Neill

On Sunday, Peter O’Neill announced plans to quit as Prime Minister of Papua New Guinea, but opposition leaders say they won’t believe it until he actually delivers a signed resignation to the Governor General.

Over almost eight years in office, Peter O’Neill has survived countless challenges, two general elections and persistent allegations of corruption and came to be recognized as a master of parliamentary maneuver.

This most recent crisis began more than a month ago when Finance Minister James Marape defected to the opposition and a steady stream of government MPs followed him.

The opposition filed a motion of no confidence.

Both sides said they were confident they had the votes to prevail, but when parliament convened, the O’Neill coalition won a test vote. The Prime Minister suspended all proceedings and filed a lawsuit, challenging the constitutionality of the no confidence procedures.

Last week, the opposition withdrew its motion of no confidence, James Marape resigned as its leader and it looked as if Peter O’Neill would survive again.

Then, last Friday, another group of MPs defected, giving the opposition a clear majority. On Sunday, O’Neill said he would step down, in the coming days, as he put it, but while he said he accepted the call for change, he said the government coalition should remain in power, and named former Prime Minister Sir Julius Chen as his replacement.

He would have to win a majority in parliament. Hard to do if the opposition holds together, but political analysts say that the one thing that unites them is opposition to Peter O’Neill. So, if he’s really out of the picture, the fight for the top job could become a free-for-all, but now O’Neill says he may remain in office, until the lawsuit is decided.