NOOSA – Prime minister James Marape last week adjourned Papua New Guinea’s parliament as once again he sought to slip away from a vote of no confidence.
With a worrying increase in the number of Covid cases in PNG, Marape explained his action as a move to fight the disease.
"It’s no time to play politics,” he said, before adjourning parliament until Tuesday 10 August.
Last week 42 parliamentary staff and one MP tested positive for Covid.
The four-month adjournment came after opposition leader Belden Namah announced Peter O’Neill as candidate for prime minister if a no confidence vote was passed.
O’Neill had selected after the opposition was shocked by its initial nominee, Patrick Pruaitch, moving to the government benches.
Responding to Marape’s adjournment, O’Neill said it was “in breach of minimum sitting days so we will see them in court.”
Political scientist Michael Kabuni had noted on DevPolicy Blog before Marape's adjournment that, “because of a high turnover rate during national elections in PNG, where about half the politicians lose their seats, MPs never push for a vote of no confidence in the last 12 months.”
So if Marape gets away with his ploy, a vote of no confidence would seem to be impractical.
“The protection from a vote of no confidence in the last 12 months will give Marape the chance to be ruthless.
“He can now expel MPs from the coalition without fear of facing a vote of no confidence, demote or reshuffle cabinet members and appoint ministers based on merit.
“He can even push for investigations into allegations of corruption, demand answers from the delayed APEC report and work out why Maseratis are wasting away in a shed in downtown Port Moresby.”
But Kabuni wrote that after next year’s election political events will be as unpredictable as ever in PNG.
“The current coalition looks likely to disintegrate by the time writs are issued for the 2022 election.
“Marape’s coalition is an assortment of politicians including those who voted against him or abstained in May 2019 like Kerenga Kua and Bryan Kramer.”
And there are a number of politicians who, if re-elected, will present as formidable challengers to Marape, including Sam Basil, Pruaitch, and former prime minister O’Neill.
But for the moment, unless the courts determine otherwise, Marape can safely govern and try to come to terms with the menace of PNG's remorseless spread of coronavirus.