Papua New Guinea’s prime minister, James Marape, has adjourned parliament for four months, avoiding a vote of no confidence that would have likely removed him from office.

The adjournment was announced late on Wednesday, with the government citing the Covid-19 outbreak in the country as the reason. On Tuesday, the government announced that 36 parliamentary staffers and one MP had tested positive for Covid-19 in the last week.

It came after the opposition announced Peter O’Neill, the former prime minister of Papua New Guinea, was their preferred candidate for the country’s top job.

The adjournment effectively means Marape cannot be removed as prime minister. In PNG, a prime minister cannot be removed via a vote of no confidence for 12 months before an election is scheduled. The next national election in PNG is due to be held in July 2022.

O’Neill has declared the adjournment to be “wrong” and “in breach [of requirements regarding] minimum sitting days … so we will see them in court”.

The political crisis comes as Papua New Guinea is in the grip of a health crisis, with the South Pacific nation passing the milestone of 10,000 Covid-19 cases yesterday, with 91 known deaths. The true number of cases is suspected to be far higher. PNG is also grappling with terrible tribal violence in Eastern Highlands Province that has claimed 38 lives and left 5,000 people homeless.

The move is the latest twist in an ongoing political drama in the country. Last November, dozens of government members abandoned Marape in parliament to sit on the opposition benches. The opposition took control of parliament and voted to suspend parliament in order to remove Marape.

Parliament was then suspended until 1 December, when a motion of no-confidence was supposed to be moved against Marape, but Marape adjourned parliament.

When parliament resumed yesterday opposition leader Belden Namah said that the opposition had made amendments to change the name of the alternative candidate for prime minister to Peter O’Neill after National Alliance party leader Patrick Pruaitch returned to the government benches.

O’Neill served as prime minister from 2011 to 2019, before he resigned after months of political turmoil. He then ran for the position again, but withdrew his nomination just minutes before voting began.

Opposition Leader Beldan Namah said that it was important that “our people know the reasons for this motion of no confidence.

“You might be asking: why a motion of no confidence at a time when the country is gripped by a global health pandemic, when the economy is in negative growth, when our people’s jobs and businesses are disappearing and with a national general election just 15 months away?”

“Our answer is this: It is precisely because of the reasons above that we move this motion. Our country is mismanaged at a very crucial time in our nation’s life. Our very future hangs in the balance.”

Namah also cited the government’s handling of the closure of the Porgera goldmine, and the use of money received from Australia, Japan and IMF to aid with PNG’s Covid response, and the country’s high debt-to-GDP ratio, as reasons for pushing to remove Marape from office.

“He must go before he runs this country to the ground. These are the reasons why we are moving this motion at this time,” said Namah.

“The opposition candidate, Peter O’Neill is our immediate past prime minister. He needs no introduction. We have every confidence he can stabilise the nation and its economy before the national general elections,” he said in a press conference this afternoon.”

O’Neill cited the economy as his reason for standing for the position.

“The economy is in recession, we can see where our country is heading and we need to do something before the economy crashes,” he said.


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