GOVERNOR ALLAN BIRD
| Academia Nomad
Good behaviour is not a sign of weakness, it is a sign of great strength. Let the ballot box speak
WEWAK – I’ve seen a number of strong comments from young Sepiks and other coastal citizens in support of electing a coastal prime minister.
So let me share my observations on whether this outcome is possible and what it would take to achieve it.
There are three ways someone can become prime minister.
The first is obviously to be leader of the party that gets the highest number of members after the election.
This party will get an invitation from the Governor-General to form a government.
Grand Chief Michael Somare had this opportunity in 2002 and 2007. Peter O’Neill had it in 2012 and 2017.
It’s also possible for like-minded parties to form a bloc and vote against the ruling party and nominate their own prime minister. But this has never occurred previously and the chances are slim.
The third way is through a vote of no confidence as we saw happened against People’s National Congress in this term of parliament as the result of which James Marape was elevated.
This is a very difficult route because it takes a special leader who is well liked and better regarded than the incumbent.
Marape became prime minister because most MPs, and many Papua New Guineans, were fed up with PNC and Marape was the most likeable choice among the contenders.
The choice of Marape was also driven by the fear of not letting PNC or O’Neill back in.
I believe most Papua New Guineans are afraid of letting PNC back into government.
Certainly after the burning of the PANGU flag in Southern Highlands last week, I see many coastal communities fearful of what that means for the country.
In Sepik over the last few days, I have seen rising fears of the dangers of a PNC-led government.
The third way of becoming prime minister is to steal it by breaching the Constitution as many leaders did in 2011. Again, the chances of this are slim.
So which coastal party leaders have the charisma and the attraction to become prime minister in 2022, and what are their chances?
Patrick Pruaitch (National Alliance)
The National Alliance Party of which Pruaitch is leader won 15 seats in 2017. It is likely to win between 15 and 20 seats this time around.
To get the invitation from the Governor-General, history tells us the magic number is 27 seats.
If NA does not get 27, a coalition will be required and that will depend on Pruaitch’s ability to negotiate with other party leaders - notably PANGU with which NA has an agreement.
Other like-minded partners are United Resources Part (URP), People’s Party, National Party and other smaller partners of the current government.
Lekwa Gure (United Labour Party)
ULP has an opportunity with its four MPs and with the tragic and unfortunate loss of its charismatic leader, Sam Basil.
But it will also need to win 27 seats or another significant number to have a chance.
Charles Abel (Our Development Party)
ODP has two MPs and is likely to form an alliance with PNC if they get the numbers. Again, they face similar challenges to NA.
Other coastal parties
All other coastal one-man party leaders like Richard Maru, Bryan Kramer, Belden Namah, Gary Juffa and others will need to win greater than 15 seats to give themselves an opportunity.
The only party to do that from nowhere was PANGU in 2017 under Basil. Such a feat is unlikely to be repeated but stranger things have happened.
From the above, and given our history, it’s likely that the two main players will still be PANGU and PNC.
So all candidates who win seats in 2022 will need to choose between these parties.
To our young upcoming leaders, the key to getting a prime minister from another region lies in supporting candidates who are well-liked nationally and who have the ability to form alliances with others.
Building parties takes time. Building alliances takes time. Gaining national popularity takes time. These things will not occur in one term.
My suggestion is that you stick to the party or leader you like best and help build them up and wait for the opportunity.
While miracles do happen, let’s not count on them.
In the meantime, don’t make derogatory statements about Highlands leaders, don't derogate their behaviour. They have their own ways of behaving and we have ours.
Value humility and respect for one another, and behave accordingly.
Let’s not go the way of our Highlands friends and start doing things to win elections with violence, burning flags or using guns.
I encourage young coastal leaders to continue to behave in ways that best represent our values.
Good behaviour is not a sign of weakness, it is a sign of great strength. Let the ballot box speak.
A coastal prime minister will come when we have a leader who can pull support from all corners of the country and when the nation is ready for it.
Making negative and inflammatory statements will not help make that happen.