NOOSA – At the weekend, even as Papua New Guinea’s deputy prime minister Charles Abel said the government’s support “remains solid”, a disparate alliance of opposition forces had achieved a narrow lead in the race to gain support to oust prime minister Peter O’Neill.
Journalist Johnny Blades of Radio New Zealand reported opposition MPs as “quietly confident” that they had the momentum to remove O’Neill as his government “reels from a series of resignations”.
Blades said the opposition Laguna Hotel camp was offering an “open door” for any more government MPs who wished to join their bid to remove the prime minister.
And as more politicians joined the self-declared ‘Alternative Government’, they brought with them a litany of complaints about the capability of the O’Neill administration
"We have a government that is government by one man for one man, for his benefit and the benefit of his friends,” said former prime minister, Sir Mekere Morauta.
“The PNG that Michael Somare, Julius Chan, Paias Wingti, Rabbie Namaliu and others shaped has been changed profoundly and for worse in the last seven years by just one man.
“Papua New Guinea is sick and we get sicker if we don't change this man. We can fix it. We have the medicine."
Morobe governor Ginson Sinou said the country had not been managed well despite the vast mineral and forestry resources available. He said this was the time to stop the current leadership for the good of the nation.
Opposition leader Patrick Pruaitch said O’Neill had an “insatiable appetite towards funds and cash grabbing, which has been the source of discontentment among many of PNG’s most prominent and notable leaders over a significant period of time.
“Peter O’Neill’s full frontal and systemic reign of manipulation and deception has caught up with him and may well have significantly eroded the basis and foundation of any credibility and integrity once tied to the honourable seat of prime minister and the seat’s once honourable and trusted words and promises,” Pruaitch said.
Speaking on behalf of seven members of the Pangu Pati who defected to the opposition group, Central Governor Robert Agarobe said their stand was to change government leadership.
And Vanimo-Green MP, Belden Namah, said the camp now had two-thirds of PNG’s governors opposed to O’Neill’s leadership.
All five MPs from Sandaun Province joined the camp at Port Moresby’s Laguna Hotel after Sandaun governor Tony Wouwou unexpectedly backflipped having earlier in the day declared he was a “diehard member” of O’Neill’s ruling People’s National Congress.
Meanwhile deputy prime minister Abel continued to crack hardy declaring, “We certainly take on board all those issues that were raised by our brothers.
“And I’m so thankful that the party and our prime minister have the understanding attitude that they have, we go forward together, we take on those issues, and as a team, we continue to respond to those issues.”
So, after a weekend which saw O’Neill’s opponents gain a narrow majority of MPs, the nation awaits a parliamentary vote of no confidence at some time in the next 1o days, perhaps even as early as tomorrow.
But with political loyalties in PNG notoriously fickle, this so far effective effort to change the country’s government - and perhaps its direction - probably still has a few twists and turns left in it, especially as the numbers on each side still remain so tight.