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Did prime minister resign, or just step away?

PORT MORESBY, Papua New Guinea (The National, Dec. 24, 2010) – In Papua New Guinea, the opposition may mount another court challenge against the government.

This time, it would be to ascertain whether the Prime Minister (PM) had actually resigned from office when he announced he was stepping aside.

Sir Michael Somare, facing misconduct charges relating to late filing of annual returns, announced two weeks ago he was stepping aside to concentrate on fighting the charges, and appointed Deputy Prime Minister Sam Abal as acting Prime Minister.

At the time, it was unclear what provisions of the law was relied on for Sir Michael to "step aside".

Yesterday, Abau Member of Parliament Sir Puka Temu, speaking for the opposition, said that a vacancy existed in the office of the Prime Minister as there was no provision in the constitution allowing the PM to "step aside" before a leadership tribunal was established.

He said the action of the Prime Minister to step aside meant that he had technically and legally resigned as the leader of the country and that created a vacancy in the office of the Prime Minister.

Sir Puka said according to legal advice he received, Sir Michael walked out as Prime Minister and that meant he had stepped down as a PM.

He said the opposition would take the matter to court because it was a serious breach of the constitution.

He said acting Speaker Francis Marus must recall Parliament so that the constitutional issue could be resolved through parliament.

Sir Puka said certain provisions in the law allowed the PM to appoint an acting Prime Minister and that was when he or she was on leave, on official trip overseas, when there was no communication or when he or she resigned.

Meanwhile, the member for Abau also revealed that the opposition had reworded the motion for a vote of no-confidence against the Prime Minister and had given it to the acting speaker to be deliberated by the parliamentary business committee.

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