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PNG prime minister Peter O'Neill resigns

Papua New Guinea's prime minister Peter O'Neill has resigned.

Mr O'Neill, who has been in the role since 2011, avoided facing a likely confidence vote by making good on his recent announcement that he would step down.

The prime minister has been under intense pressure after mass defections from his government in the past month left him without a majority in parliament.

The Papua New Guinea Parliament building in Port Moresby. Photo: RNZ Pacific/ Koroi Hawkins

Mr O'Neill told parliament this morning that before coming to the chamber, he had tendered his resignation to the Governor-General.

"Mr Speaker, I want to inform this honourable house that at 9.45am this morning, I delivered to His Excellency the Grand Chief Sir Robert Dadae, the Governor-General of Papua New Guinea, my letter of resignation so we can deal with this matter once and for all. Once and for all," Mr O'Neill said.

Mr O'Neill's formal resignation today came after he had appeared to backtrack on his earlier commitment to step down this week, prompting the opposition to file a motion against him this morning.

Leading opposition MPs promptly praised the prime minister for listening to the people by stepping down to allow new leadership.

"By your resignation today, you beat me and beat many of us and outclassing many of us to the view some of us have of you that you are power hungry. Today you showed that you still have the heart to listen to the call and cry of our people," said opposition MP James Marape.

Parliament Speaker Job Pomat confirmed a parliamentary vote for a new prime minister will take place Thursday morning.

It's unclear which MPs will be nominated to be new prime minister, with intensive political horse-trading expected in Port Moresby through until tomorow's vote.

However one senior MP who defected to the opposition in recent weeks, Sir Puka Temu, has already crossed back to the ruling People's National Congress party, and more could follow.

This means Mr O'Neill's party could yet remain in power under a new leader.

New Zealand's government says it's watching the unfolding political developments in Papua New Guinea closely.

A spokesperson for the Ministry of Foreign Affairs said the situation in PNG is still developing, and as such New Zealand will continue to monitor it.

However she said it would be inappropriate to comment further at this time.

Meanwhile, Australia's Prime Minister Scott Morrison earlier praised his PNG counterpart as a great friend and partner.

However the former PNG prime minister Sir Mekere Morauta said the praise was inappropriate, unhelpful and discourteous.

Sir Mekere claims it echoes how the Australian government interfered in PNG's 2017 election by supporting Mr O'Neill.

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