Political numbers game hots up

The National, Monday July 18th, 2016

PAPUA New Guinea is seemingly split over the political numbers game that started last week after the Supreme Court ordered that Parliament be recalled to take the vote on the no-confidence motion in Prime Minister Peter O’Neill.
Many people view it as a mismatch with the Government expected to hand out a thrashing while others expect a tight game with the Opposition fighting tooth and nail to the end.
Still, it’s anybody’s guess which side will emerge victorious when the crucial vote is taken on the floor of Parliament on Friday.
As the saying goes, anything can happen in Papua New Guinea, “the land of the unexpected”.
While the Government is quite confident of maintaining its overwhelming majority in Parliament, the Opposition is quietly confident of causing possibly the biggest upset in PNG’s political history.
The defection of the Ben Micah-led People’s Progress Party (PPP) last Friday has given the Opposition renewed vigour and purpose in its pursuit to overthrow the O’Neill Government.
Micah’s decision to break ranks with his long-time friend and ally O’Neill last Friday is being viewed as a masterstroke that has changed our political landscape overnight.
Although he will forgo the influential Petroleum and Energy Ministry, Micah is much relieved that he will no longer be part of a regime that he firmly believes has “lost the plot”.
Surprisingly, Mining Minister Byron Chan decided not to cross the floor with his party leader, his father Sir Julius Chan and the party’s other MPs – Milne Bay Governor Titus Philemon, Johnson Tuke (Kainantu) and Timothy Masiu (North Bougainville).
The Opposition and its supporters and sympathisers are now expecting the political winds of change to blow on Friday when Parliament takes the crucial vote on the no-confidence motion in the Prime Minister.
New Generation Party leader and Goroka MP Bire Kimisopa summed up the mood in the Opposition camp, saying: “I’m optimistic that the winds of change are here. We’ll know by Friday which side of the political divide you want to choose. If you want to choose to stand with the people, or you want to stand with a group of people who assume that they’ve got the nation’s interest at heart. That’s a big difference.”
Kimisopa and his two MPs – Jiwaka Governor Dr William Tongap and Ronnie Knight (Manus Open) – have also joined the Opposition to beef up the numbers as the political horse-trading hots up.
Micah issued a brief statement yesterday that will be remembered for a long time after the vote of no confidence is taken.
“In 1980, PPP under the leadership of Sir Julius Chan as Prime Minister contributed to the liberation of the Republic of Vanuatu from colonialism. On Friday, PPP under my leadership moved to the Opposition to begin the process of liberating the people of PNG from the stubborn, arrogant and insensitive attitude of my friend Peter O’Neill.”
The Prime Minister was quick to counter the attacks by Micah and the Opposition.
In a media statement before boarding the plane to Alotau yesterday, O’Neill declared he had the numbers to thwart the Opposition’s bid to wrestle the top job from his firm grip.
“We displayed our numbers (in Parliament) last Friday and we’ll display it again this week. You can see that since starting the government in 2012, we have maintained our numbers consistently.Don’t worry about unstable characters – they will come and go. Some of them have already gone (to Opposition), we wish them the best of luck. We will see them at the elections.”
Not to be overshadowed byPPP’s defection, the Government flexed its muscle yesterday when more than 70 MPs were seen boarding their charter flight at Jacksons Airport to go into camp in idyllic Alotau.
The Milne Bay capital is considered an ideal location for political parties to hold conventions, caucus meetings and bonding sessions. The camp also enables party leaders to keep a tight rein on MPs who are considered “high risk” and susceptible to the clutches of the Opposition.
Nonetheless, past votes of no confidence have proven that political bonding camps like the one in Alotau can be meaningless because many of our leaders can shift alliances in a blink of an eye, mostly for personal benefit.