BY JO CHANDLER
THE AGE / SYDNEY MORNING HERALD
TIGHT SECURITY AND HIGH ANXIETY underwrote the final sitting of Papua New Guinea's outgoing Parliament this week, with rumours running hot that an 11th-hour power play would derail the looming national election and plunge the troubled nation deeper into uncharted straits.
Despite Prime Minister Peter O'Neill's efforts to douse claims that MPs seeking a delay of the poll were plotting against him, conspiracy theories electrified city-dwelling citizens anxious to use their votes to end the crippling political impasse of the past nine months. (How far such concerns resonate out in the landscape of the rural majority, where many long ago gave up on services or governance, is another story.)
As MPs gathered for the showdown on Tuesday, beefed-up security and the mysterious absence of the Speaker, Jeffrey Nape, fanned suspicion that something was up. For almost two hours the burgeoning online gallery of PNG's switched-on citizenry tweeted, posted and sweated on his non-appearance.
Exploding social media has emerged as a potent force in PNG's recent crisis, informing and recruiting grassroots networks and mobilising huge street protests last month.
Now it demanded to know whether the reviled Nape - whose autocratic and erratic style has long stirred controversy - was holed up somewhere cutting a deal. Or might he have been swept up by Task Force Sweep, the anti-corruption agency that had drawn a warrant for his arrest over allegations about missing development funds? (He has been quoted denying ever getting the money.)
According to the Post-Courier the next day, the Speaker had indeed been hoping to muster numbers to delay the poll even as the bells were ringing. He took his seat after the Prime Minister and others confronted him.
''In a rare show of unity, MPs on both sides of the House put their differences aside and unanimously agreed that the writs must be issued on Friday for the polls to be held now,'' the paper reported. Parliament was dissolved.
''Despite the political challenges and the constant uncertainty PNG has done it! We're going to elections,'' tweeted ''Tavurvur'', one of PNG's leading (albeit anonymous) political bloggers. Relief swept the digital airwaves. ''That's sweet news.'' ''Thank God, now we can move forward.''