FRANCIS NII | Supported by the South Pacific Strategic Solutions Writing Fellowship
YESTERDAY I INADVERTENTLY came across the biography of Grand Chief Sir Michael Somare in Wikipedia.
As I browsed, the memory unfolded of the political impasse between the Grand Chief and the O’Neill-Namah regime that almost brought Australia’s closest neighbour and traditional friend, Papua New Guinea, into constitutional crisis and anarchy.
As reminiscence continued, I felt tranquility sweep through my being. The most turbulent period in the political history of PNG apart from the Bougainville crisis had come to an end with peace and stability.
As we celebrate the New Year, we are on course.
The impasse and its related events are now all water under the bridge - the enactment of the controversial judicial conduct laws, the ousting of the Grand Chief from Parliament and his East Sepik provincial seat (subsequently regained at the general election), the military fracas and the storming of the sanctuary of the National Court by Belden Namah in pursuit of the Chief Justice, Sir Salamo Injia.
Post election, the Grand Chief buried the hatchet in Alotau and aligned himself and his National Alliance MPs with the coalition parties and made his former rival Peter O’Neill the prime minister.
This humble act by the father of the nation prominently overshadowed all the outstanding constitutional references, court proceedings and other outstanding issues and paved the way for normalcy and stability.
As we know, PNG is the land of the unexpected and the most unfathomable and weirdest scenes can unfold in any circumstance whether cultural, commercial, ethical or political.
Moreover, in PNG society, personal virtues and morals at leadership level and among the citizenry are not really important compared with western and other societies.
Like most people, I first thought Somare’s u-turn decision was just one of those expect-the-unexpected PNG styles of response to circumstances and issues.
But as I continued to take knowledge of his entire biography, my conscience was troubled.
My mind was searching. How could the longest serving politician in the Commonwealth, the father of the nation, the warrior in his own right and the Sukundumi (the river god) of the Sepiks stoop that low and align himself with the rival under whose administration his personal reputation, clout and dominance were tarnished, humiliated, dragged and muddied?
How could he suddenly forgive him and join him as a friend?
Maybe he didn’t have a third and better option.
However, in my pondering for a palatable rationale, another question popped up: Had the political marriage between Peter O’Neill’s People’s National Congress Party and Belden Namah’s PNG Party continued into the July general elections and the formation of the new government, would the Grand Chief bury the hatchet and reconcile with them?
A statement made by former deputy prime minister and current Opposition Leader, Belden Namah, in his verbal war with current prime minister Peter O’Neill in their vying to form a new government struck my mind.
“I know how to make prime ministers. If I don’t get the top post, I will make someone else become the prime minister” Namah tated.
Having delved into the credence of the statement, I am of the opinion that the Grand Chief knew something the public did not know.
He knew who his real enemy was.
The political war was really the battle of the Sukundumis – Namah verses Somare, the river gods of the mighty Sepik River. It was a divide-and-fall saga of the Sepik dynasty.
The western Sukundumi, with his vast military experience, was the master tactician and frontline warrior fighting and dismantling the supremacy of the eastern Sukundumi with the support of a handful of erudite lieutenants - Sam Basil, Allan Marat, Powes Parkop and of course Peter O’Neill, to name a few.
Namah fought vigorously to protect what he fought for. This was evident in the words he spoke and the actions he took. The invasion of the sanctuary of the National Court in pursuit of the Chief Justice and his personal quelling of the military fracas offer credible evidence.
Namah even went to the extreme of branding the Grand Chief a dinosaur when he declared his allegiance to Peter O’Neill in Alotau at the time of the formation of the new government.
All in all, the decision by Sir Michael and his MPs to bury the hatchet and to vote for Peter O’Neill for the post of the PM against Belden Namah was nothing more noble than a learned and calculated payback – a continuation of the feud of the Sukundumis.
If the Grand Chief was genuine about burying the hatchet and moving on with life, he should have come face to face with his real foe, Belden Namah, and made a public reconciliation with him.
Only then the dark clouds hanging over his motives would have cleared and there would be doubtless credence to his action.
Christmas and New Year were the best times to do that.