NOOSA – The question of who will govern Papua New Guinea until the next election in 2022 lies in the balance this morning as the numbers in both political grouping show a paper thin margin.
When parliament met yesterday there were 109 of the 111 members present and it seemed they were split 55-54 in favour of the opposition.
The shortfall of two members comprised government MP Sir Mekere Morauta, in Australia on medical leave, and a vacant seat (Bougainville Regional) yet to be filled.
But there was a critical question around the legitimacy of the opposition’s Bari Palma, an undischarged bankrupt who as such would be ineligible to sit in parliament.
Late yesterday the court let him off the hook after his debts were paid in full.
Palma, the MP for Kerowagi Open, was declared bankrupt by the national court in 2017 over K171,696 in legal costs that had been awarded against him after a failed 2012 election petition.
He had appealed the decision, but it was dismissed.
After this matter was uncovered last week, Palma paid the amount in full and last Friday filed an urgent application to have the insolvency declaration discharged.
An issue may remain about whether Palma, having been declared bankrupt, was disqualified from being an MP at all and whether he should have been participating in and voting on parliamentary proceedings since 2017
Yesterday leading figures from both sides failed to agree on the matter and, when parliament finally convened, the Speaker ruled an adjournment until tomorrow in the hope that Palma’s eligibility to sit in parliament would be determined by the supreme court.
If Palma was debarred and Sir Mekere returned, it would have left the numbers at 55-54 but now in favour of the government.
The government would then elect a speaker who would exercise a casting vote.
A narrow win to be sure, but all James Marape would need to do at that point would be to await the rush of opposition members to the government’s side of the aisle
Yesterday afternoon the opposition selected Patrick Pruaitch as its candidate for prime minister and announced it would submit a notice for a motion of no confidence before the day’s end.
With the vote now looking like it may be 55-55, it could be back to the court.
Sources: Bryan Kramer MP, Martyn Namorong, Natalie Whiting (ABC)