Friday, May 25, 2012

How it works in PNG

Last year, Papua New Guinea's Supreme Court ruled that the ousting of Prime Minister Michael Somare was unconstitutional and ordered his reinstatement, sparking a constitutional crisis. The government, military and police ignored the ruling, but the crisis simmered on, with a law purporting to give the government the power to remove Supreme Court Justices (quickly declared unconstitutional), and efforts to delay scheduled elections. Now it has flared back up.

The original ruling was confirmed on appeal in a split decision. The point is fairly moot, as elections are less than a month away, but the constitutional principle is still important. The government's response was for the Deputy Prime Minister to personally lead a squad of soldiers and police to the Supreme Court to arrest the Chief Justice for "sedition". The charge is ludicrous - you can't prosecute a judge for a ruling you disagree with - but what's worse is the contempt shown here for the separation of powers and the rule of law. Politicians dictating charges, using the military as a political tool, and directly involving themselves in arrests. A government disobeying the court. These are the actions of dictators, not an elected government.

And now, as a result, another faction of police is blockading Parliament, apparently in an effort to stop it from meeting and delaying elections...

This shows how fragile the constitutional norms underlying democratic societies are. In Papua New Guinea, those norms - always weak - now seem to have broken down completely.