PNG's People's Progress Party loses ground to coalition partner
One of Papua New Guinea's oldest, leading political parties is reeling from the departure of two of its MPs to the ruling People's National Congress party in a move reflective of a wider pattern eroding the balance of PNG's political party landscape.
One of Papua New Guinea's oldest, leading political parties is reeling from the departure of two of its MPs to the ruling People's National Congress party.
The People's Progress Party found out last week that it is losing the Kundiawa-Gembogl MP Tobias Kulang, and Finschhafen MP Theo Zurenuoc, the speaker of parliament.
The PNC, led by prime minster Peter O'Neill, has increased its ranks significantly since the 2012 election and now has around 60 of the 111 MPs.
Johnny Blades has more.
The People's Progress Party's general-secretary says their two departing MPs wrote to him formally notifying of their departure. Moses Kar says the PPP, now reduced to five MPs, is disappointed it has lost the MPs to its bigger coalition partner.
MOSES KAR: We were a bit upset because their departure was a surprise to the whole team. But there's nothing much we could do. The reasons were not given and I don't know why they left, because we are part of the coalition partner.
Under the Alotau Accord, through which the current coalition government was formed, the speaker's position was to be held by a People's Progress Party member. It appears unlikely that the speaker role would be transferred to an MP still in the PPP, but the party's founder, former prime minister Sir Julius Chan, says all parties should stand by the terms of the coalition agreement.
SIR JULIUS CHAN: I have had a lot to do with getting Mr Theo Zurenuoc appointed speaker. He is privileged to exercise his discretion and he chose to go to the prime minister's party. The only thing I can is that it is sad is that he failed to talk to me before making the switch. On the question on the other member that moved across, Mr Kulang is quite unpredictable.
This isn't the first time Tobias Kulang has switched parties. PNG's organic law on the integrity of political parties and candidates allows considerable fluidity of MP movement, meaning the parliament has a fair share of serial party hoppers. However the PNC has been steadily absorbing members of not just opposition parties but its own coalition partners over the past three years. Paul Barker of PNG's Institute of National Affairs, says there is a sense that MPs feel pressure to be in with the leading party in order to have access to resources like district grants.
PAUL BARKER: Especially during this year when there is a bit of a budgetary crisis, limited funds available. Probably the less you are in the good books of the ruling or the leading coalition party that maybe your chances of securing the district grant allocation is more limited. They say it's even handed and so on and so forth but certainly it looks that way.
Theo Zurenuoc has told local media that the move by he and Mr Kulang was about the deep conviction and trust they have in the leadership of the Prime Minister and his policies. Some observers have questioned whether the recent change of the PPP leadership to State Enterprises Minister Ben Micah may have bred disillusion in the party's ranks. Mr Micah has recently been referred by the Ombudsman to the Public Prosecutor for alleged misconduct in office.
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