The National – Monday, June 20, 2011
ONCE upon a time, Western Highlands politics used to impact nationally in the days when the power was held firmly by then prime minister Paias Wingti and when the late National Party leader, Paul Pora, refused stoutly to share government with him.
It seems, today, the power base has shifted westward to Enga, a part of Western Highlands which got separate in 1974 to form its own district.
Today, Wabag MP Sam Abal wields the big stick and dangles the carrots that grow so well up in Sirunki and calls the tune.
There is a highlands saying that in a “ples singsing”, there is only one song leader and so that which divided the Western Highlands “haus man” once is repeating itself in Enga.
Abal has removed his distant cousin and Kandep MP Don Polye from his Foreign Affairs ministry which Sir Michael Somare had installed him at as one of his last moves before he went away for his extended medical treatment in Singapore.
While the move has not been entirely unexpected, it has created no little debate and consternation, not the least of which has been inside the National Alliance party itself. Perhaps in the heat of the moment Abal did not think through the consequences of his actions as deeply as he should have.
Polye is a deputy in the party, one of four representing the four regions of the country. He also happens to have the largest number of highlands MPs supporting him. Both of these positions entitles him almost automatically to claim the leadership of the parliamentary wing of NA should the position be vacated by incumbent, Sir Michael Somare.
That Polye does not now hold the position of deputy prime minister and the job of acting PM has much to do with Sir Michael’s choice, one that operated outside the constitution of his own party. In his wisdom, he decided that Abal, rather than heir apparent, Polye, ought to be his deputy and therefore to be the acting PM after him.
Sir Michael decided in his wisdom that it was not yet time to hand over the reins of leadership to Polye while he was away for an extended time.
While he acted outside the NA constitution, his own action is not illegal. As prime minister, it is entirely his prerogative to appoint members of his ministry. That power is vested in him by the PNG constitution and, therefore, far superior to the party constitution.
But political parties must operate cohesively. They must obey the dictates of their own constitution and regulations and policies. To not do so would be to invite chaos.
Whatever the motives of Sir Michael, he did not remove Polye completely. He allowed him to be in charge of his highlands faction. He gave him a ministry – a fairly senior one – and one that surprisingly Polye has handled very well in the short stint he has had there.
He went in there with very little experience but he has done well to the extent that regional leaders have commented that they have been impressed by him.
In that sense, it has been a remarkably insightful choice by Sir Michael. It has given Polye the breadth, depth and scope of issues at the international level that will prepare him better for any senior role he might have in future, including that of head of government.
Polye is an ally to Abal, not the enemy.
Together they have captured Enga for the ruling party, and left Enga Governor Peter Ipatas with only one other seat out of Enga’s six. To fight now this close to the elections is bad for the National Alliance in the province.
That is a very bad situation to be in going into the elections.
Polye has not been totally respectful of Abal, a matter that may have led to his sacking. There are reports he (Polye) openly sided with William Duma, the sacked former petroleum and energy minister in cabinet, and challenged Abal in cabinet on MoA issues, left cabinet in a huff and stormed back in to continue the challenge.
Let us remember that both men were said to have been sacked for “insubordination”.
Whatever the personal issues, the sacking of Polye has not gone down well with the rank and file of NA and with other NA regional factions as well. This will have led to the long delay in announcing replacements for the ministries.
We think Polye ought to be reinstalled in some capacity or in his old job. In the final analysis that will make Abal look good to have done a good rethink.
There will be no loss of face and it is the right thing to do by his party.