PROLOGUE – 7 NOVEMBER 2018
Port Moresby, National Capital District
“Daddy! Daddy! I’m home, where are you?” The girl’s voice filled with giggly excitement tore the quietness of the house into shreds.
She burst into the house with exuberance, threw her school bag onto the table and ran to her Dad, some books in her arms.
Dad was startled from a reverie. He was in deep contemplation reading a lengthy post on Facebook titled ‘Noises in the Kitchen Cabinet’. It was about the political party in power. There were definitely cracks in the ruling party.
“Daddy, we did Math today, it’s all about percentages and fractions,” she reported to him, sitting on his lap.
“Really? What grade are you in again?” her dad replied affectionately.
“Dad,” the girl looked sternly, “I’m in grade 3. Stop forgetting that.”
Her Dad feigned a hurt look. “Sorry chief, I thought you in grade 5. In my time we did fractions and percentages in grade 5. Well you guys are very clever doing it in grade 3.”
His daughter beamed with pride.
“So tell me what you learned today about percentages and fractions?”
The little excitedly launched into an explanation. “Teacher said you can find percentages and fractions in everyday life. For example if we buy pizza and it is cut into pieces, then it is already divided into fractions which later you can change into percentages.”
She continued nonstop, “We then did a Maths problem, like if there are 100 seats in the classroom and the boys are 40 boys and 60 girls in the classroom, what is the percentage of boys and girls? And if 30 girls did not come to school, how many seats are left?”
Seats, fractions, percentages, something clicked in his mind. Excluding the Speaker there are 110 seats in parliament, and the ruling coalition holds 60. If that 60 splits three ways, their voting power depletes and if you play around with the numbers….
“Daddy are you listening to me?” his daughter’s voice cut across his train of thought. “Yes, chief what were you saying?”
“You are going to help me do my homework,” she stated firmly. “Of course I will, now run along, change out of your uniform and do your chores,” he said, his mind busy churning out scenarios and strategies.
As his daughter left, the young lawyer picked up the phone. A voice greeted him in Arapesh. “Elpein wabigeb” [Brother afternoon].
“Wabigeb, I think I have a plan. Those cracks in the ruling party with the vote of no confidence six months away. I think we have enough time to pull it off.”
“Okay, I’m at the Parliamentary Accounts Committee right now. Meet me at eight at my house.”
THE MEETING - 18 JANUARY 2019
Wewak, East Sepik Province
It was one of those beautiful Wewak afternoons when the sun’s heat had diminished and tall coconuts danced in a cooling wind.
The slow drive along the coast from Meni Beach to the Windjammer Hotel was relaxing. The salty breeze, the fragrance of surf spray mixed with driftwood fires, the high pitched laughter of carefree children made his mind wander to a time long gone.
The old Windjammer Hotel was shaped like a huge crocodile, its tail and body sitting snugly along the beach adjacent to the main road, its head pointing to the sea. In the small Thirsty Pukpuk bar, drinkers could watch the sun set over the sea while enjoying a cool drink.
In the bar sat five Sepik men, one from the west and four from the east. A lawyer, a former politician, and three current politicians. The most senior joked, “See I told you, the three wise men from the east, all good things begin in the east.”
“Good and bad things too, chief,” the West Sepik man retorted affectionately.
The older man looked at the young lawyer whose family name has been synonymous with Sepik politics for a long time.
“Gentlemen, our plan to destroy the huge Highlands hausman has been put in place. I’ve found the key or, let me rephrase that, I’ve convinced someone to be the key to effect the plan.
“The damage will come from within as we have conceived. After some months, he has agreed but set one condition.” There was silence, four sets of eyes on him.
“He doesn’t want even a hint in the media due to his position in the ruling party. He’ll handle numbers but he will handle it quietly. Our hand will be revealed in the eleventh hour and on the floor of parliament. Any leak to the media and he will deny everything and the plan is off. Agreed?”
“Of course!” exclaimed the gentleman from the west. “Secrecy. Social media is a constant diversion anyway. But we have to play it quiet and right.” They all agreed.
“Our numbers are locked and intact,” said the lawyer. “Our allies have confirmed their numbers, but our own party must stay firm and take advantage of the element of surprise.
“And one more thing, all communication will be handled by me, a non-politician, not a single one of you should be seen talking to him or even near him.”
“So cometh the eleventh hour, the PM of course will be the first candidate,” the older man said. “I will be nominated as the challenger by our ally Pangu, however before nominations close there will be a surprise nomination from us - a strongman from the PM’s ranks. He will then get all our votes including mine. I’ll be the dummy, aye?”
“Maybe,” the lawyer replied. The response caught everyone’s attention. They were not expecting more.
“Well, that is what we want but there is something else I know we want. Our party has been cursed with the burden of holding the fabric of this country together. Our party is founded on the basic principle of protecting the Constitution.
“I know we’ve played our fair share of politics and ended up before the courts but we always played within the confines of the law, and exercised every right granted to us by law to defend ourselves. And we always adhered to the law even when judgement was made against us.
“We cannot go to sleep knowing our laws have been violated. Our party has a noble obligation to do it right, don’t you think?”
Everyone nodded in agreement, but the old man spoke sarcastically. “Lawyers always think the Constitution is their playing field.”
“Well, you never failed to come see a lawyer when in need,” the young man retorted dryly.
“So what have you got up your sleeve, Mr Lawyer, it better be good. Your dad never failed to give me quality legal advice.”
“What I have in mind is a Trojan Horse move, a move disguising an even more ulterior motive. It also means that even if we fail in our attempt no one will guess our plan.”
The young man detailed his plan.
“We know the goal, to have a new PM from our party. To get there, we use the PM’s strong man to split his party by proposing him as the third nominee.
“We cut a deal with him, promising him all our numbers and, with the numbers he will bring from his side, there will be enough to tip the scale in his direction. That is what we get him to agree to and believe in and that is what we shall do on our part.”
There was as interjection. “How can we elect a PM from our party if we promise him all our numbers, I don’t get it.”
“I haven’t finished yet, sir, I’m coming to that,” the lawyer countered gently.
The gentleman from the west advised the interjector, “Impatience is a killer in the game of politics, it will kill your career if you are do not know how to control it”.
“Well, let me continue,” said the lawyer.
“Gentlemen, let me present to you the real state of affairs surrounding our heavyweight political parties. Let’s start with the ruling party. The PMs believes his party is intact. But the person we are courting knows there are two sizeable factions and he controls one.
“However what both of them do not know is that there is a third and growing faction. This is our first ace, gentlemen. You will recall that issue of policy difference where the respected Treasurer was sacked?
“He still has an axe to grind and it’s a big axe. While he sits quietly as a backbencher he is silently consolidating his numbers. He is a nambisman but he is a nationalist and an academic. He has no interest in the PM’s post but believes his policies can rescue our economy.
“He also has a fake account on Facebook and has been raising hell with his commentaries. Well, I told him we can give him that opportunity if he will scratch our back.
“Now our second ace, the second largest coalition party. Its leader has been in the media lately for the wrong reasons. He has many skeletons to hide. But it’s important to note he retains quite a following despite being sacrificed by the PM to try to rebuild his own anti-corruption image.
“Our colourful coalitionist is desperately looking for a friendly bush to hide in and I reached out to him, we can be that friendly bush for the time being. Well, gentlemen, combined with our own strong Opposition coalition, we can compete, even when appearing to give away all our numbers.
“In summary, we apply the right pressure at the right time through the right avenue and get our desired result. It’s a matter of fractions and percentages.
“Even if our numbers go astray, we will still have a new PM and be respected as king makers.”
The young lawyer paused, waiting patiently for them to digest what they had just heard. They each nodded silently, deep in thought about the possibilities of pulling this one off.
“I’ve requested the services of a man who was press advisor to a former Australian prime minister to coordinate a propaganda campaign. The unhappy sacked Treasurer will be hard at work coming up with juicy tidbits for public consumption.
“But, I repeat, all public information in this matter will be run through me as our efforts must be coordinated and messages delivered at the right time and in the right way. I assure you a well-coordinated campaign will force cracks to appear in places you never imagined.”
The young lawyer folded his arms across his chest and relaxed into his chair.
“I can’t say I’m a fan of all this,” countered the gentleman from the west. “If our plan doesn’t work and he becomes PM fine, we will be called saviours and the masses will look kindly on us, however if the plan succeeds and I become PM how sure are we that our coalition will retain the numbers?
“If someone cries to the media, the backlash will be enormously damaging just before the elections.”
Then the older man began to speak. “I am the master of failure as the longest serving politician ever to have graced the corridors of that noble hausman,” he began.
He spoke for more than 20 minutes, delving deep into his experiences of murky business practices, devious campaign techniques, legion backdoor deals, the failures, the triumphs, the underpinning psychology. It was a master class of politics.
When he finished everyone at the table nodded in respect and admiration. And the younger lawyer exhaled a sigh of relief, catching the old man giving him a secretive wink.
“So young man, the big question fascinating everyone here is how on earth you managed to hook up the PMs most trusted politician? His impregnable strongman?”
The lawyer gave a devilish smile. “His wife and my wife. She’s a Sepik lady, my wife’s cousin sister. So I spoke to my wife who spoke to his wife who spoke to him and finally got him around.
“Gentlemen, never underestimate the power of women.”
“Do these two Sepik women realise they have played the most important role in this plan to change our political history,” the old man remarked. “Well in their honour let us call this Operation Sepik Blue.”
The five Sepik gentlemen clinked their glasses and enjoyed their drinks as they watched the red ball of the sun sink over Wewak Point, turning the sea into sparkling gold.
And there, on that beautiful Wewak afternoon at the Thirsty Pukpuk seaside bar in the old Windjammer Hotel Operation Sepik Blue was born.
It left a mark on the political history of Papua New Guinea as the greatest political maneuver to have ever descended upon the hausman.
EPILOGUE – 29 MAY 2020
Port Moresby, National Capital District
The lawyer was at home relaxing on his couch, cradling The National newspaper and smiling at the headline, which he was reading for the fourth time that day:
PNG Has New PM After Shock Maneuver
Papua New Guinea is trying to come to terms with the election of the new Prime Minister yesterday on the floor of Parliament.
The events that transpired were straight out of the pages of a political thriller with a story line that no political analyst, bloggers or social media commenters predicted despite months of faithfully following camps, campaigning and political horse trading.
It was a well-planned plot that took everyone by surprise, including the Speaker, the now former Prime Minister, his closest ally and nearly every parliamentarian.
The looks of shock, anger and disbelief were visible on every face after the identity of the new Prime Minister was announced.
Things started to go askew from the expected vote when a third nominee was proposed from the ranks of the Government. The acceptance of the nomination sent shock waves through the entire chamber as MPs knew something extraordinary was happening but not knowing what the game plan was.
The fiery coalition lawyer turned politician from Goroka Open appeared to be poised to be elected but when numbers were tallied the Opposition nominee and West Sepik Governor was announced as the country’s new leader.
“Daddy!” The lawyer was jerked from his reading as his daughter came flying into his arms. “Daddy I want to be prime minister when I grow up.
“Our teacher told us today we have a new prime minister and, you know what, he is the Uncle Daddy that bought me ice cream at Vision City last time.
“Daddy what should I do if I want to become prime minister?”
“Well darling, first you have to know your duties and responsibilities, like right now, you need to change out of your school uniform, wash your lunch box and help mummy prepare dinner.”
His daughter girl pouted as she left the room.
“Speaking of mummy, I’m could be in big trouble,” the lawyer thought. His wife hasn’t spoken to him since hearing the news. He’s heard her speaking on the phone to her cousin sister long into the night.
He feared he might be in for a very long lecture - which he awaited with dread.
“Hell hath no fury like a pissed off Sepik woman quietly biding her time to unleash her anger with precision, brimstone and fire,” he thought.