PNG waiting to have next PM confirmed after chaotic and violent poll

Parliament will sit for the first time since the poll to vote for a prime minister, with the incumbent Peter O’Neill claiming his coalition has the numbers.


Mr O’Neill’s People’s National Congress (PNC) was invited last Friday to form government during a controversial return of election writs, with counting in only 80 of 111 electorates completed.

A further extension of writs means a possible six electorates could still be undeclared when the 10th parliament sits, the largest number of empty seats for the first sitting ever in PNG history.

Mr O’Neill claims his coalition has at least 56 members, enough to rule, while an opposition alliance made up of the National Alliance, Pangu Parti and independents claims it almost has 50 MPs and is within striking distance of power.

The election has been marred by widespread electoral roll irregularities, with many thousands of people unable to vote, in what was described by international election observers as alarming.

Violence between rival supporters over disputed vote counting has cost numerous lives in the volatile Highlands, including two police officers killed with assault rifles, and caused rioting in major centres.

Electoral commissioner Patilias Gamato has faced calls for him to resign for incompetence, allegations he rejects.

Former prime minister Sir Mekere Morauta came out of political retirement to win a seat as an independent and has condemned the handling of the poll.

Mr O’Neill has said it was one of the most peaceful elections on record.

No one party has ever held a majority, but after writs the one with the highest number of MPs is usually asked to try to form government.

In the lead up to parliament sitting, “camps” of MPs-elect try to build a coalition, with PNC and its allies meeting in the regional town of Alotau, while opponents united by a shared wish to unseat Mr O’Neill met in Kokopo and Goroka.


Both camps have returned to Port Moresby ahead of parliament sitting, with each keeping a careful watch that MPs who have declared their allegiance do not swap sides.

About 50 per cent of MPs lose their seats in PNG’s five-yearly election and many high-profile PNC ministers have been thrown out, while some veteran politicians have returned, along with newcomers with no parliamentary experience.

MPs are often financially broke after the election and allegations of inducements circulate, including offers of money and plumb ministerial positions being offered by the camps.

As the last of the electorates were still being declared and the opposing sides built up their numbers, at least one opposition MP was the target of a kidnap attempt at gunpoint.

Mr O’Neill said the alleged plotter, a failed candidate who was accompanied by police, was no longer a member of the PNC.

With the widespread election irregularities, many MPs will face further challenges in the court of disputed returns.

After the 2012 poll, it took four years to finalise the last cases.

One certainty is the new parliament will be all male, with no women elected after a record number in the previous term and despite the highest number of female candidates in the country’s short democratic history standing.