NOOSA – The defection of Pangu Party leader Sam Basil and eight members of his parliamentary team (plus four independents) to the O’Neill governing coalition has sent shockwaves through Papua New Guinea.
It was yet another example of how money does more than talk in PNG politics – it first shrieks, then poisonously embraces and finally squeezes even the best principles out of weak and venal leaders.
In this case, Basil misled his own people in Bulolo and Morobe who voted for Pangu in huge numbers in an explicit rejection of the O’Neill government.
He has deceived them in an act which leaves people in his own electorate and throughout Papua New Guinea justifiably feeling they have been betrayed.
The move, foreshadowed two weeks ago by Basil’s now former colleague Bryan Kramer MP and denied at the time by Basil, strengthens the government benches and leaves the opposition – which after the election looked strong and viable – in tatters.
The response on social media was immediate and angry. “And so it ends,” wrote @masalaifrog on Twitter, “the hope of thousands murdered in its infancy. Such is life in PNG.”
New Zealand journalist Johnny Blades reacted with a pungent, “Excuse me I have to go and puke.”
Blades had interviewed Basil for Radio New Zealand International in a story aired on 17 July in which Basil warned that O’Neill’s Peoples National Congress “was ready to pay a million kina each to any newly-elected independent MPs to join its coalition.
"That [successful] independent candidate must understand why he was chosen by the people to represent them,” Basil said. “And he or she must not sell the voters' rights to a political party that voters do not want to come back into power."
Now it seems Basil has done precisely that.
Around the same time in July Basil attacked O’Neill as “a spineless leader”, a term the Post-Courier newspaper chose as a headline.
Basil’s now hollow words resonate with that rancid hypocrisy that it seems only politicians are capable of emitting.
Within minutes of Basil’s appearance with O’Neill at a media conference yesterday afternoon, rumours were flying around PNG social media that there was something untoward – even blackmail – involved in the decision.
The chat led Transparency International PNG to remark caustically on Twitter: “Blackmail is a punishable offence under the PNG Criminal Code; unfortunately it does require courage (now in short supply) to come forward.”
Meanwhile Nelly, commenting on Twitter, seemed to sum up the feelings of thousands of disappointed Papua New Guineans and friends of PNG when she wrote: “It's sad: he airs the opposition's difficulty accessing funds [and being] punished for criticising government. [Is this the way forward PNG? People continue to suffer.”