PNG PM urges vote for women seat quota

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14 February 2012

Papua New Guinea Prime Minister Peter O'Neill has a called on all MPs to turn up this week and vote for laws that will give women 22 parliamentary seats after the June 2012 election.  PNG has only one female MP, Dame Carol Kidu, who is to retire at the next election.

Mr O'Neill called on all of PNG's 109 members to be present for the vote on the bills this week.  "I appeal to every member," Mr O'Neill said.  "We might not have another opportunity.  "I urge all members to attend parliament in a timely manner so that we can discuss these three or four important bills."

While most government MPs attended the opening of parliament on Tuesday, the opposition benches remain mostly empty, with members loyal to former PM Sir Michael Somare boycotting the chamber in protest at Mr O'Neill's claim on the prime ministership.

PNG late last year passed a constitutional amendment to guarantee the seats but parliament needs to pass two enabling laws to define the size of the new electorates.  Mr O'Neill has previously said he can deliver 68 to 70 of the required 73 votes needed to pass the bills.  While there are no laws prohibiting women from running for office in PNG there remain numerous barriers that female candidates face in the sometimes fiercely paternalistic society.  

In a recent interview with AAP, Dame Carol said two of her three election victories came because her electorate, Moresby South, is close to the capital city, Port Moresby.  "I could get in with fundraising, you see," she said.  "If you are a woman in a regional area. It's hard, very hard, almost impossible."  Also on the agenda for the week are laws to overturn a Somare government amendment that would have removed PNG's provincial electorates.  Calling the passage of the amendment in 2006 a mistake, Mr O'Neill pledged to remove it.  "The situation today is that provincial electorates are here until the prime minister advises the head of state to commence an amendment to the constitution," he said.

Dame Carol briefly occupied the chair of opposition leader on Tuesday before moving to PNG's non-aligned middle benches.  Speaker Jeffery Nape said he would decide on whether to acknowledge her in the opposition role on Wednesday.

[The Sydney Morning Herald, Eoin Blackwell, AAP Papua New Guinea Correspondent]

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