LET me tell you a story; see if you can guess how it will end. It's about a country where defiant student protests have galvanised national attention, delivering the prime minister an ultimatum to stand aside and face investigation about millions of dollars in suspected fraud.
The national economy is teetering. Foreign exchange is in short supply. But the stubborn PM refuses to budge, despite an outstanding arrest warrant in his name. In this tense climate, a firebrand opposition figure takes to the airwaves, calling on people to rise up and "save your country".
The police chief, personally installed by the prime minister, dispatches squads of armed police on trucks to occupy the university campus in a bid to stamp out the protests. Authorities rumble darkly about the need for "certain powers" to respond to unnamed agitators and national security threats.
Sound like a combustible mix?
That's Papua New Guinea during the last few weeks. Not a tale long past, but a drama unfolding right now on Australia's doorstep.
Yet incredibly, none of this strife appears to much worry Australia's political leaders. To the extent our closest neighbour is noticed at all, the concern is almost entirely parochial; how to persuade PNG to keep open the Manus Island detention centre, despite the country's supreme court ruling the asylum seeker camp is illegal.
That's a plot twist for you. Australia, a wealthy champion of liberal democracy, is busily encouraging a poor nation already straining with internal troubles to buck the local law. How neighbourly.
It's not really fair of me to ask how this all ends, because no one can really tell you. People have worried about a widespread political collapse in PNG for decades, yet the country has always muddled on. It may well again.
But Australia would be a far better neighbour if only it stopped making matters worse. PNG is understandably protective of its sovereign independence, so Australia's ability to be a positive influence in the country is always going to be limited to advice rather than direction, as it should be. Still, benign neglect would be better than the present approach.
The supreme court ruling gave Australia the perfect excuse to abandon Manus Island and regain a little local credibility.
Instead, a team of immigration department officials has shuttled back and forth from Canberra over the last few weeks to try and convince the government in Port Moresby that Prime Minister Peter O'Neill acted too hastily in announcing the closure of the camp.
The priority is wrong. Australia could be talking about sensible measures to fix gaping holes in the PNG budget, rather than potential sweeteners to keep Manus operating. Australia could be counselling careful respect for law and order. Instead, the gates on Manus Island have swung open, but even this is no guarantee of compliance with the supreme court's ruling.
O'Neill pledged again to "implement" the court decision. But his attention is elsewhere, on problems that have quickly compounded. The students gave him 24 hours to step down, but he remains in the job. He responded to the student petition in a long letter, and the whole thing would be comic, if not potentially so dangerous.
In polite language, O'Neill dismissed each complaint:
The country gambled on a $1.2 billion loan to buy shares in an oil company, beyond its means to repay debt?
"The suggestion that the loan was secured outside of due process is entirely false."
Then why cut public spending, especially in health and education?
"Hundreds of jobs were saved; essential services were maintained."
And the big suspicion, that O'Neill authorised $30 million in dodgy payments to a law firm, shut down an anti-corruption probe and refused to submit to an arrest warrant for questioning?
"It does not make any sense at all … there has been a clear miscarriage in the administration of law. As a citizen, I am entitled also to exercise my rights … I wish to state clearly that I have no intention of either stepping aside or resigning from the Office of the Prime Minister."
So, on to the next chapter and an unknowable conclusion. Despite provocations, the protest has been peaceful. The students, marching dressed in black, have declared they will boycott their classes and keep up the campaign to oust O'Neill.
"Everyone does not like him," one told me. Their courage is admirable. The loss to their education - even if only a temporary interruption - will only heap pressure on an already struggling nation. The impasse could last a while.
One thing has changed, but it's of little comfort. You might be surprised to learn that PNG is officially no longer classified as a "developing nation". The country has received more aid from Australian taxpayers than any other, and failed to meet benchmarks to eradicate preventable disease, such as tuberculosis, or ensure basic education.
But with a wave of the statistical wand, the World Bank has this month banished the very term "developing country" from the international vernacular. The language of developing or developed countries was regarded as too discriminatory, it seems, and has gone the way of once commonly discussed First and Third World divisions (or "busted arse countries", in former foreign minister Alexander Downer's memorable but less diplomatic turn of phrase).
Now the World Bank prefers a cluster of "world development indicators" to rank countries around themes, including living standards, natural resources, the economy and global connections.
The labels may have changed, but the PNG story has not. The country is languishing on almost every measure. A friend next door might pay enough attention to actually help.