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SOMARE OUT, O’NEILL IN AS PNG PRIME MINISTER Surprise shift in parliament elects former cabinet minister

By Liam Fox and Sen Lam MELBOURNE, Australia (Radio Australia, Aug. 3, 2011) –Papua New Guinea has a new prime minister after disgruntled government members of parliament joined forces with the opposition to have the prime minister's office declared vacant.

When parliament resumed on Tuesday afternoon, several government MPs walked out with the Opposition and sat on their side of the house.

With bolstered numbers, Opposition leader Belden Namah successfully moved to have the prime minister's office declared vacant because of the ongoing absence of Sir Michael Somare due to ill health.

Mr Namah then nominated former treasurer, Peter O'Neill, as the new prime minister. Mr O'Neil was then installed as the new prime minister by a 70-24 vote.

Before defecting, Mr O'Neil lwas the works minister.

He takes over from Acting Prime Minister Sam Abal, who sat dejected as the floor erupted with applause and Mr O'Neill was congratulated by his new colleagues.

On Tuesday afternoon, Mr O'Neill was officially sworn in as prime minister in a ceremony at Government House.

The director of PNG's Institute of National Affairs, Paul Barker, has told Asia Pacific frustration had been building among the nation's MPs.

"There had been a lot of discontent in the Opposition and some government members had been looking for a way for some time to... show that they wanted change," he said. "Parliamentarians were frustrated by, among other things, the very limited amount of time that they have had over the last year or so actually in parliamentary sessions."

Peter O'Neil had only been works minister for a short time, Mr Barker said.

"For a longer period of time of late, he was the treasury and finance minister, where he seemed to be doing a good job.

"I think the department staff found that he was responsive and good to work with, and he had put together the 2011 budget, for a start.

"But going back, he is from the Southern Highlands province, his mother is from Southern Highlands, his father was 'Kiap' or an old District Officer from... Australia. He's certainly an able, a determined, bright individual, and an astute politician, and certainly ambitious."

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