Toroama’s first 80 days: return to Arawa begins
Marape: We have reconciled and they are back

At curtainfall, Marape took the applause

James Marape and Sam Basil
James Marape and Sam Basil. "It is a bold and a confident man who will put a limit to the strange by-oaths into which the human spirit may wander" (Arthur Conan Doyle)

KEITH JACKSON

NOOSA – Even as late as yesterday morning, before the Papua New Guinea parliament had re-assembled, it seemed prime minister James Marape would struggle to hold on to his job.

Not that the numbers weren’t tight; they were very close Just a couple of votes in it.

But the Namah-O’Neill-Basil-Pruaitch group spearheading the opposition seemed to have the edge.

And they might have had the edge, but for two factors.

A couple of days before, Patrick Pruaitch had defeated Sam Basil 27-24 as the opposition’s nominee for prime minister.

Factor 1 was that former foreign minister Pruaitch was the choice and Basil is very ambitious.

Factor 2 was that only 51 MPs had participated in the vote that selected Pruaitch.

Normally it takes 56 votes to control the PNG parliament but three matters confused things this time.

One was that a by-election was pending, reducing available members from 111 to 110.

Another was that a government backbencher, former prime minister Sir Mekere Morauta, was in Australia on medical leave.

Pruaitch and Basil
Happier times. Patrick Pruaitch and Sam Basil four days ago - a very long time in politics

And the third was that opposition backbencher Bari Palma was believed to be an undischarged bankrupt, and therefore not eligible to take his seat

So on Monday it looked like it might be enough for 54 members to win the day.

And by this time, the opposition’s numbers had crept up to 54.

The Marape government seemed to have 52.

The opposition had benefited by Palma, or a friend, repaying the money he owed.

When this was made known to the court, it extinguished Palma's bankruptcy so enabling him to retain his seat.

And parliament was adjourned until yesterday with the opposition seeming to be holding a narrow advantage and to be well placed.

In what might have been a farewell note, Marape wrote:

“This fight is nothing but about controlling resources, and not for the former prime ministers of the nation who have signed for my removal.

“I ask them this honest question.

“If you have answered all our country’s needs, would we as Papua New Guineans be suffering now with the issues, including the Bougainville crisis, we face today?”

But over the intervening 36 hours, the gossip was beginning to spread with increasing intensity that Basil, resenting his failure to be the opposition’s nominee for prime minister, was going to rat on Pruaitch and scurry back to the government benches.

He's on the move, the drums were beating, and a big bunch will go with him.

By yesterday morning, as members began taking their seats in the chamber, the gossip was seen to be anything but idle.

Eighteen MPs crossed from opposition to government, including seven former Marape ministers who had defected and then been sacked.

Cheering emanated from the government side of the chamber.

As ABC correspondent Natalie Whiting tweeted, “James Marape has staved off the attack on his leadership and regained control of parliament.”

And sitting alongside Marape was a smiling Sam Basil, who it can be presumed will soon be deputy prime minister again.

"I respect my Momase brother [Pruaitch]," Basil had tweeted four days ago, "and there will be no split regardless of who gets the nominee." Hmmm.

With 72 members supporting him, Marape had easily retained his position and moved to pass the budget a second time (the first had been ruled as unlawful by the supreme court).

O'Neill walks out of parliament
O'Neill walks out of parliament, his authority wholly spent and perhaps with it his political career

Mumbling that the budget was unconstitutional, opposition MPs, including O’Neill and former minister Sir Puka Temu, stalked out of the chamber.

It had been in O’Neill’s interests to manufacture a Marape defeat.

But he should have suspected Basil would flip-flop if he didn’t become the prime ministerial nominee.

The member for Bulolo has done that a few times previously in his political career. He may even do it again.

Parliament was adjourned until Tuesday, 20 April 2021.

Sources: Twitter, Facebook

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