Marape became the first PNG prime minister to be elected unopposed as 97 MPs decided to vote for him unanimously, leaving former prime minister O’Neill, comprehensively outmanoeuvred in the election, to strut out of the chamber muttering something about “a matter of conscience”
NOOSA – Even in the elation of victory, unanimously chosen prime minister of Papua New Guinea, James Marape, could not bring himself to provide hope for women to occupy a fair share of seats in PNG’s parliament.
“Women do not need special seats, they can run on merit,” was the curt response when he was asked whether two (1.7%) of 118 seats was an adequate return for the nation’s women.
It was fine for the parliament to have two women of quality elected. Let's see if their outstanding qualities are put to good use.
But euphoria seemed hardly an appropriate emotion given that 116 male MPs, increased by seven in a whirlwind creation of new electorates just before nominations were called.
That was far from the only unsettling thing to occur in this election.
There was the lightning speed with which Marape’s own seat of Tari-Pori was declared, leaving him in the prime position and with plenty of time to organise the numbers for continuation of his prime ministership.
There were the consistent allegations of common roll manipulation, vote rigging, ballot box theft, voter intimidation and corrupt electoral officers.
There was the expected outbreak of election-related crime and violence – some of which seemed orchestrated to disrupt polling in favour of certain candidates.
There was the Governor-General’s assent to the Pangu party, with just 36 seats of 118, forming a government despite as many as 22 seats not being declared.
And to end a perfect election for Marape, he became the first PNG prime minister to be elected unopposed as the 97 MPs who remained in the chamber decided to vote for him unanimously, even the opposition now reduced to an eight-man rump.
Former prime minister, Peter O’Neill, comprehensively outmanoeuvred in the election, had strutted out of parliament before the vote muttering something about “a matter of conscience” as Speaker Job Pomat called for nominations for the top job.
In addition to the welcome elections of Kessy Sawang (Rai Coast) and Governor Rufina Peter (Central Province) there was good news in the re-election of honest brokers Governor Allan Bird (East Sepik), Bryan Kramer (Madang), Ian Ling-Stuckey (Kavieng), Governor Gary Juffa (Oro) and Kerenga Kua (Sinasina-Yonggamugl).
They will have a harder job than ever steering the country to a better place.
Meanwhile, Marape is persisting to invoke the vision, first espoused when he seized the leadership in 2019, to ‘take back PNG’ and make it “the richest black Christian nation on earth”.
Well, as I wrote back in 2019 when staying at the Grand Papua I found myself in the middle of the fierce politicking to get Marape elected, good luck with that.
Upon his re-election, Marape then made a speech that veteran PNG journalist, Gorethy Kenneth, labelled as “rambling” and “failing to hit home with ordinary Papua New Guineans, leaving the population pondering what to expect in the country reeling from high unemployment, huge law and order issues and rising prices of basic store goods.”
Indeed, Marape did plough over much old ground, and his oratory lacked what we expect of Highlanders, but in the interests of fairness I reproduce here some of the speech, exaggerations and embellishments included:
This generation of leaders must deliver economic independence to Papua New Guinea.
That Pangu has secured the mandate from Papua New Guinea can only mean that our people in the length and breadth of this country support this intention.
It is my humble privilege to address this house as the Prime Minister. In 2019, I secured the mandate to be prime minister on the floor of parliament.
I served for three very hard years with the support of a lot of you.
Today, I have secured the mandate from the people of Papua New Guinea.
They have empowered, emboldened, and mandated me and the party to lead to be in government.
I am privileged to lead a coalition of likeminded leaders to be your government.
The 2022 national general election brings our country to the cusp of 50 years of nationhood.
Three years before we turn 50 years old as a nation, Pangu gets a further opportunity to deal with some fundamental issues confronting our country.
The onus and responsibility now rest on each member of Parliament to rise up to the occasion and renew our commitment to pass on a better Papua New Guinea to the next generation.
We are consistent with the Vision 2050 on the development phases of our country to be smart, wise, fair, healthy, and a happy society by 2050.
It aligns nicely in that we are called to deliver economic enablers to fast-track development.
Fast track we must, as we do not have the luxury of time to wait around for things to happen at their pace.
And so Papua New Guinea moves forward into what seems to be a far cry from a brave new world.
But, given the timid outfit Australians we to the south have just elected, who are we to talk?