Tussle for West Sepik’s top post

Editorial, Normal

The National, Friday August 21st, 2015

 THERE were grave doubts earlier this year that the by-election for the West Sepik regional seat could be disastrous due to inadequate funding by the Government.

While Electoral Commissioner Sir Andrew Trawen’s fears about this issue have been allayed, the threat of a political impasse remains.

This is because Vanimo-Green MP Belden Namah is adamant that he will continue to hold office as Governor after a new regional MP is elected. 

The regional seat was vacated by Amkat Mai after the court of disputed returns decided against his 2012 general election victory.

Mai, the National Alliance candidate, looks set to retain his seat and was leading the count with 30,403 votes ahead of his nearest rival, People’s Progress Party’s Simon Solo, on 12,829 votes after the eleventh elimination yesterday. 

He needs another 4,000 votes to score the absolute majority.

While Mai is expected to be declared winner possibly today, he faces a wrestling match with Namah, the tough guy of PNG politics. 

Namah was elected governor by 13 local level government (LLG) presidents in the Sandaun provincial assembly on April 22. 

“I am already the governor. Whoever will be declared after the West Sepik regional by-election will just be an ordinary regional MP,” he said at the time.

The former Opposition Leader maintains that the Organic Law on the Provincial and Local Level Government allows him to hold on to the Governor’s position.

However, Deputy Prime Minister Leo Dion said this week that he had already informed Namah in a letter of the illegality of his election as governor.

“The law is straight-forward. I don’t acknowledge his election,” Dion, who is Minister for Inter Government Relations, told The National on Wednesday. 

“That’s the end of it. The power is vested in me as the minister responsible.”

Namah’s immediate response was: “Dion is not the right person to declare me as not the Governor.” 

He denied receiving the letter and even challenged the Deputy Prime Minister to take the matter to court. 

“The court is the right forum to dispute my election.”

In another statement yesterday, Namah said: “I want to make it very clear to Leo Dion that you do not have the jurisdiction to tell me to get out of my position as the Governor for Sandaun. 

“You have no jurisdiction at all to make that statement.”

Namah is well-known for his firebrand politics. 

His “never say die” spirit has been his hallmark – from the early days as a Defence Force soldier and a key figure in the Sandline affair in the 1990s to his first-term election to Parliament in 2007 and subsequent elevation to Deputy Prime Minister under controversial circumstances in August 2011. 

His re-election in the 2012 general elections was another personal achievement for Namah but his split from the coalition with Prime Minister Peter O’Neill – less than a year after their infamous parliamentary coup to remove the Somare regime – and the subsequent formation of a new O’Neill-led Government, was an anti-climax which continues to haunt the PNG Party leader.

Seemingly, Namah’s political career has seen more “downs” than “ups”.

Following his short stint as Opposition Leader, Namah went into a brief hibernation until April this year when he seized the opportunity of the vacancy in the Governor’s seat to rally support from provincial assembly members and get himself elected.

It was a surprising but calculated move.

Despite what Dion and the legal experts say, Namah intends to occupy the Governor’s seat for a little longer, even until the next general election in 2017. 

Namah had no intention of contesting the by-election and was betting on his PNG Party candidate Oree Greg Kapanombo to win the seat so as to avoid a political impasse in the provincial assembly.

That will not happen after Kapanombo was eliminated yesterday and his party leader faces a title match against likely winner Mai, who will have the full support of the Deputy Prime Minister. 

Whatever the outcome of the by-election and the struggle for the Governor’s position, the political scenario in the far-flung border province will never be the same again.

At least, not as long as Belden Namah is in the thick of things.