KUNDIAWA - Papua New Guinea’s opposition and many members of the public applauded the resignation of James Marape from the finance portfolio last week as a heroic move against a corrupt prime minister, Peter O’Neill.
Now, the resignation of the member for Esa’ala, Steven Davis, as attorney-general has added more weight to Marape’s exit.
I didn’t buy into Marape's resignation as a genuine move so much as a plot to save O’Neill and his People’s National Congress-led government from an imminent vote of no confidence in parliament.
I expressed this suspicion in a PNG Attitude article, ‘Shockwaves hit PNG as Marape resigns from ministry’, in which I wrote:
“Marape’s resignation could also be part of a political strategy ahead of the coming vote of no confidence in the prime minister, but in light of O’Neill’s well-known trickiness, it could be a stratagem. Thus politically, it is really an unpredictable move. There is no doubt that this issue has many twists and turns still to be revealed.”
O’Neill’s elevation of his once fiercest political rival, Pangu Party parliamentary leader Sam Basil, to the coveted finance portfolio left vacant by Marape in Wednesday’s small ministerial reshuffle made me confident of my earlier suspicion.
The appointment of Basil and another Pangu member, Markham MP Tony Iguan, to take Basil’s former communications ministry, gives Pangu a total of three ministries. Pangu has 15 members in the government.
The intended vote of no confidence is only three weeks away and any move now is critical. At the same time, politics in PNG is volatile and unpredictable. Often things happen at the eleventh hour on the floor of parliament.
Having stated this, I believe Marape’s resignation was a calculated political plot to lure Basil and members of the Pangu Party to consolidate O’Neill’s position in power.
In any institution when an resigns, it is a requirement that the resignation be authenticated bearing the signature of the concerned person. To date, I don’t think Marape has done that, leaving his purported resignation in limbo.
Furthermore, usually when ministers resign in these circumstances they also resign from their party. In a normal political operation, O’Neill would have expelled Marape from People’s National Congress.
Since Marape’s resignation announcement, I have watched for either of these acts to eventuate but so far it has been business as usual. This is strange in PNG politics.
O’Neill and Marape have strong cultural and personal ties and the same unbreakable bond has existed politically. They have been brothers in arms in just about everything. If anyone will go to the extreme to make sacrifices to save O’Neill, Marape has been the man.
So my expectation is that Marape will stick to O’Neill and be his puppet backstage. Any expectation of Marape rebelling against his brother in arms is vain.
Finally, whether Basil is aware of the plot or not, O’Neill and Marape have set the bait to lure the big and hungry fish and it has so far worked out successfully. Basil has taken the bait.
Like O’Neill has always done in using mandated leaders for his convenience and dumping them when he didn’t need them or it concerned his survival as prime minister, he has successfully lured Basil to use him for the numerical strength he brought with him from opposition.
However, the resignation of attorney-general Davis and further consideration of Marape’s strong Seventh Day Adventist background, has changed my mind that Marape meant business. Instead I believe he had simply had enough of O’Neill’s denigration of mandated leaders and their roles.
Davis's resignation has widened the crack in the government and soon O’Neill will unleash his anger on Marape by kicking him out of People's National Congress. This will add to the damage O’Neill and PNC are experiencing.
Sam Basil and his Pangu Party now have to make a most critical decision. The opportunity for Basil to live up to his 2017 election slogan, “Friends to all, enemy to one”, may have arrived.
Instead of being used by O’Neill, it is time for Basil to be smart and use his numerical strength to turn the tables and secure a better place in a new government. Or perhaps retire to the periphery again.
If they want to oust O’Neill, I hope Basil and the political strategists in the opposition take this analysis seriously before the vote of no confidence in three weeks’ time.