​Potape’s election declared illegal

The election of Francis Potape as Governor by members of the Hela Provincial Assembly has been declared illegal by the National Court for the third time.

With just 17 days to go to before polling, the Waigani National Court today handed down its ruling on the ongoing tussle between Koroba-Lake Kopiago MP Philip Undialu and Komo-Margarima MP Francis Potape, over the governor’s post.

This is the third time the court has declared Potape’s election as Governor illegal.

The National Court on 14 June 2016 declared his elections on 29 December 2015 illegal.

The second was on 6 Sept 2016, where the court declared both Potape and Undialu’s separate elections on 5 July 2016 as null and void, issuing an order for the Provincial Assembly clerk, Watson Ebela, to fix a time, date and issue notices for the meeting. 

The third election was conducted on 13 September 2016 by the Provincial Assembly. 

This time, no notice was served to Assembly Members James Marape, Rev. Olene Yawai and Charles Apalu, despite Apalu being verbally informed of the meet.

Justice Collin Makail found that failure to serve notice to the three was a gross breach of the election process under section 21 of the Organic Law on Provincial and Local Level Governments, rendering the election of Potape void.

“It follows his election as Governor must be declared void. In my view, the consequence is that, not only were these members denied the right to participate in the meeting but the right to vote and/or nominate for the governor’s seat,” Justice Makail said in court.

He also said Potape’s election was flawed from the start because the provincial clerk, Potape, Deputy Governor Thomas Potape and Filbert Tuya did not give notice of the meeting to Undialu and other members of the assembly.

Justice Makail also warned the parties over their unwillingness to resolve the dispute, saying the court will consider declaring them troublesome parties if they persist.

“This is the third time the dispute over the governorship has come to court for determination and is indicative of the parties’ unwillingness to resolve it.

“They must be told in no uncertain terms that they do not have a free rein to do what they please but must be reminded to abide by the rule of law. And it will come to a point where the court will consider declaring each of them a vexatious litigant of they persist,” he said.

(Loop PNG file picture of Undialu and Potape outside court last year)

Sally Pokiton