By Jeremy Mogi
The May session of Parliament had been a frenzied hype with Papua New Guineans fascinated by the Melanesian political scenario being played out.
On the one hand, a young leader with momentum on his side and a tired nation behind him, riding off waves of popularity and backed by Waigani’s heavyweight’s. On the other, a seasoned veteran who had once been seen as a saviour, promising a new era of success for the country, and who had survived countless political battles to date.
May 7th promised to be explosive.
Media reports had placed both Peter O’Neill’s PNC coalition and the alternative government proposed by James Marape, as being fluid but almost equal in their numeric advantages. So it was down to political wit and stamina that an outcome would come to a head today.
It started off in almost comical fashion, a set of teams preparing for a grand final showdown rather than a parliament sitting.
Understandable and undeniable tension filled the room, after weeks of politicking, switching allegiances and closed door dealings. The deep backdrop of a vote of no confidence and the vacuums it would create played on the minds of each one of the nation’s leaders as they stepped into parliament.
A prayer opened the session, a house deep in thought , each of the 111 MPs holding their own thoughts but that serenity was soon broken after speaker, Job Pomat, opened the floor.
Member for Kavieng, Ian Ling-stuckey, opened question time with scathing remarks hitting the PM on a number of issues including national debt and the current state of the economy and the Prime Minister’ s alleged bad management.
His discourse focussed on O’Neill as a destructive force on the country while bringing to the fore a question that had been burning on a lot of minds.
“Prime minister why did you not step down earlier and offer your failing leadership to more competent leaders such as your former Finance Minister, James Marape, or even to your very indecisive Deputy and Treasurer Charles Abel to fix the economy, thank you Mr speaker”
That statement drew snickers of delight from across the floor.
If the Prime Minister appeared rattled, he didn’t show it. Eight years of relentless scrutiny had rendered him almost immune to jibes as he charmed his way in the chamber.
“Mr speaker I did not elect myself into this position the people of Papua New Guinea elected me , the leaders of this house elected me, you can test the numbers whenever you like, Mr. Speaker. That’s the right that the good member has and that’s his constitutional right he can test it anytime but I don’t have to resign because he is asking me to resign, who are you?” O’Neill hit back.
O’Neill appeared to play on his opponent’s emotions well, while maintaining his own, risking the ire of both the Member of Kerema, Richard Mendani, and drawing a point of order from the lively, Bryan Kramer of Madang.
Ling-Stuckey, however, reiterated his concerns, again calling out O’Neill on various decisions taken that in his view, had placed the PNG economy in jeopardy.
The Prime Minister having none of it, accusing members of parliament of purposely talking down the economy for political point scoring, provoking statements from Patrick Pruaitch, a former treasurer.
Close associates of Pruaitch, Sinasina-Yongumugl MP, Kerenga Kua and Vanimo-Green MP Belden Namah were incensed.
O’Neill would continue to present his defence diplomatically amidst further frustration from the opposition, while also making his own accusations against Kua, who had been a legal advisor to Sir Michael Somare, whom O’Neill succeeded.
The Prime Minister’s counter-arguments, untainted by emotion.
His closing remark directed at Kavieng MP Ling-Stuckey: “To answer your question about party leaders… it is quite frankly, none of your business.
“I have said all along they are independent mandated leaders, ultimately it is their decision, we will have differences of opinions on policy on the way we do things but ultimately it is their decision and we respect their decisions”
In The first open interaction since his defection, James Marape was given the opportunity to question the PM himself.
The alternative PM nominee, reiterating much of what had been said over the past fortnight – that many of his decisions had been done without consultation of his own cabinet
Both collected, both showing as much political respect as was necessary. The PM vs the PMs presumptive heir and both men refusing to be drawn into the diatribe that had ensued prior to their own discussion.