Catch-22 situation for acting PM

Editorial, Normal

The National – Thursday, June 23, 2011

THE Acting Prime Minister, Sam Abal, was this week placed in a political dilemma of his own making.
As he announced a major reshuffle, the supreme governing body – the national council – of his National Alliance party was in session on Monday and Tuesday worried sick about the absence of parliamentary leader Sir Michael Somare and uncertain as to what to do with the man Sir Michael left in charge because recent decisions taken by him have shaken the party to the core.
The sacking of a deputy leader of the party in Don Polye, without consultation with the party, has rocked the NA considerably.
It is unprecedented.
A special meeting of 14 non-parliamentary executives of the National Alliance (highlands region) last Thursday unanimously resolved to expel Abal as a member of the party.
The highlands executives meeting cited the sacking of Polye as being “not in the best interest of the party” and resolved to press Sir Michael to restore Polye to his ministry.
Had that resolution been presented to the national executive committee of the NA last Friday, Abal’s fate in the party would have been decided by the national council meeting this week.
Fortunately, for Abal, the resolution was presented to the committee on Monday and so, although the committee has accepted the resolution, it has not presented it to the national council for deliberation.
In the absence of the parliamentary leader, this is a big relief for the council whose members include Polye.
Polye, as deputy leader, is a member of the NA national council while Abal, as an ordinary member of the parliamentary wing, is not.
But, he is the acting prime minister and, even if sacked by the party, he would remain so until parliament appoints a new prime minister.
“We are stuck,” an insider told The National.
“He (Abal) has been chosen by the parliamentary leader of NA (Sir Michael) but, in removing Polye, he has acted against the best interest of the party.
“He has not consulted the party before he sacked Polye and (United Resources Party leader and petroleum and energy minister William) Duma.
“He has removed the posts that support the NA house and the government house.
“This is unprecedented in our history.”
And, while this was happening, in a statement signed by four unnamed members of the United Resources Party on Tuesday evening announcing the sacking of its founder, Southern Highlands Governor Anderson Agiru, citing collaboration in the sacking of Duma as the reason.
Agiru said no such action had taken place.
“There was no such meeting of the party,” Agiru said.
“There are 16 members of URP; check who has signed this nonsense (statement).”
Two other members of URP have also denied knowledge of the meeting and the statement purporting to sack Agiru and the registrar of political parties has said he has received neither formal notice of the sacking nor has the party complied with procedure required for the sacking of its parliamentary wing members.
Agiru is a staunch supporter of Abal but, of the reshuffle, he said: “Any decision by the acting prime minister regarding his ministry is his prerogative and his alone.”
Abal has ruffled feathers in yet another major coalition partner in the People’s National Congress when he demoted PNC leader Peter O’Neill from finance and treasury to works and transport.
The PNC was meeting last night to decide whether or not to remain a part of the government in light of the move.
It felt slighted particularly because it has stood loyally by Sir Michael when his own NA was split last year with a large faction breaking away to join the opposition to challenge the government.
This is what the URP and PNC are angriest about: that in the reshuffle, Abal has recognised Charles Abel who was one of the MPs who turned against Sir Michael while coalition partners have been treated in a contemptuous fashion.
The Abal move has also widened a rift within the URP whose fallout might see the second largest party decimated only 12 months before the general election.
But, perhaps, Abal’s biggest dilemma is not his coalition partners in government but his own party.
He was virtually locked up in his parliament office by the Momase faction of the NA on Tuesday night who demanded he give the finance and treasury ministry back to Pruaitch.
The executives of the NA are also quite disappointed in Abal who, they feel, has not consulted the party sufficiently as he should have.
His fate still hangs in the balance with a resolution before the national executive committee that is yet to be deliberated on calling for his head.
Abal’s dilemma is far from over as the parliamentary leader is unlikely to return in the foreseeable future.