Via The Australian:
Prime Minister Peter O’Neill last week proposed the changes to make sure motions of no confidence are made public three months before they come to a vote, as well as reducing the minimum annual number of parliamentary sitting days.
Three months notice for “no confidence” votes is quite an extreme proposal! I would not call it “constitutional terrorism” as the opposition leader did, but I would call it–as I have previous changes to confidence-vote procedures in Papua New Guinea–de-parliamentarization.
The parliament of Papua New Guinea voted in late November to extend to 30 months, from the current 18, the “grace period” following the installation of a government during which no-confidence motions are not permitted (see The Australian).
Note that the term of the PNG parliament is five years. If this measure is confirmed in a final vote set for 5 February, it would mean for fully half the term of parliament, there would be no effective responsibility of the government to parliament.
Most (all?) classifications of the world’s political systems–including some published under my own name–have PNG among the parliamentary democracies. However, calling this system parliamentary is becoming increasingly inaccurate.
Shugart and Carey (1992) refer to a hybrid type in which the assembly selects the executive, which then is not subject to confidence, as “Assembly-Independent”. PNG is trending that way, though not completely, as there will remain periods in which parliament may engage the responsibility of the government.
(I recall that there also exists a period leading up to an election in which no-confidence moves are not allowed.)
Last December the PNG Supreme Court ruled that Michael Somare had not lawfully been removed as prime minister and therefore that the election of his successor was invalid. The PNG constitution goes into some detail on how to remove a prime minister and the method used, a parliamentary decision without any notice, did not meet the requirements for a vote of no confidence. The ABC has developed a nice turn of phrase by referring to Somare’s putative successor as the ‘effective prime minister’.
We now have fresh developments. The Supreme Court re-affirmed its December ruling 3 days ago. Today the deputy speaker ruled that the effective prime minister is out of office. In the meantime the deputy prime minster has arrested the chief justice and deputy chief justice and charged them with sedition. A ruling by the presiding officer is not one of the ways that a prime minister can be removed from office, although the deputy speaker may be relying on the new court ruling.
The foreign ministers of Australia and New Zealand are having a mild case of hysterics. There is some talk that the effective deputy prime minister will now charge the deputy speaker with sedition as well.
According to the Sydney Morning Herald:
Shortly after the declaration, [effective deputy prime minister] Mr Namah called a caucus meeting in the Parliament’s stateroom and was overheard saying he would seek legal advice.
I would imagine those words are becoming somewhat worrisome to the objects of that advice.
The PNG parliament has voted to postpone the general election, due in June, for 6 months. This appears to be outside the constitutional powers of the parliament. It follows a long course of similar actions since the O’Neill government and the supreme court fell out over who is the constitutional prime minister.
Last August the Parliament of Papua-New Guinea designated (recommended for appointment) Peter O’Neill as prime minster. Yesterday the supreme court ruled that designation, and subsequent action by the governor-general, was illegal because there was no vacancy for the parliament or the governor-general to fill. Both the sitting prime minister and the former prime minister are now claiming the office.
A no-confidence vote may be moved soon against Papua New Guinea Prime Minister Sir Michael Somare.
The item reminds me of one of the restrictions on parliamentary confidence in PNG’s democracy:
As the Constitution does not allow any vote of no-confidence in a prime minister 18 months before the next general elections, a vote must be called by the end of the year.
Essentially, this provision means that the parliamentary system is converted for the final 30% of a parliamentary term into an “assembly independent” system (defined as one in which the executive originates from the legislative assembly, but survives independently of any loss of confidence).
Do any other (otherwise) parliamentary systems have similar provisions restricting parliament’s ability to hold “its” executive to account?
Michael Somare, the first prime minister of Papua New Guinea to serve a full parliamentary term, today begins a second term. His party won just 27 of the 109 seats in recent parliamentary elections, but with a coalition of other parties and independents, has now been re-elected to the post by the new parliament.
That political engineering, meant to generate more governmental stability in perhaps the world’s most fragmented democracy, certainly seems to have worked!
PNG, with about six million people and continuous democracy since independence from Australia in the 1970s (and before independence, actually) is one of the overlooked cases of developing world electoral politics. It is also one of the world’s great Law-breakers–Duverger’s Law, that is.