PNG CONSTITUTIONAL CRISIS LOOMS

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By Mark Forbes

PORT MORESBY, Papua New Guinea (July 18, 2002 – The Age)---Papua New Guinea faces a possible constitutional crisis and may be waiting a month or more for a new government, with Prime Minister Sir Mekere Morauta launching a court case to ensure that all election votes are counted before Parliament convenes.

Sir Mekere attacked a call by former prime minister Sir Michael Somare -- whose National Alliance has fared best in counting so far -- for Parliament to be immediately recalled. Preventing democratic processes risked "national suicide," Sir Mekere said.

"The temptation to entrench an artificial lead in the polls has proved too much for some leaders," he said.

Counting has not started in the Enga and Southern Highlands provinces, where armed mobs have seized or destroyed hundreds of thousands of ballot papers amid widespread election-related violence. The army has been called into the area in an attempt to restore order.

Sir Mekere said it would be "dynamite and wrong" if voters from those areas could not take part in forming a government. Either continuing the counting past July 29 or calling fresh elections in the provinces would require a court order, he said.

"Parliament may have to sit later than August 5," Sir Mekere said. "Everything must be done to ensure every Papua New Guinean, through their elected leaders, takes part in the formation of government."

Sir Mekere said he would continue in government if it is determined to be legally possible.

For additional reports from The Age, go to PACIFIC ISLANDS REPORT News/Information Links: Newspapers/The Age.

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