Defections leave PNG's Opposition depleted
Papua New Guinea's Opposition has been significantly depleted by recent defections to government which appears to be very secure in its position for this parliemtnary term. How does the apparent imbalance affect PNG's parliamentary democracy?
Defections to the government have left Papua New Guinea's opposition significantly depleted with just seven of the parliament's 111 MPs remaining.
This comes amid accusations that the government of Peter O'Neill is making it difficult for Opposition MPs to access development funds unless they defect.
In February, legislation was passed extending the grace period protecting a government from no-confidence votes, with over two thirds of the five-year term now locked down for government.
Johnny Blades looks at the state of PNG's parliament:
The latest defection from the opposition was by the Kandrian-Gloucester MP, Joseph Lelang, who simultaneously joined the prime minister's People's National Congress Party. Mr Lelang indicated the challenge of delivering services to his remote electorate could only be met if he was in government. The deputy leader of the opposition, Sam Basil, says although all MPs are entitled to funds from the District Support Improvement Programme and other sources, the government is using tactics to hold the funds back.
SAM BASIL: I can tell you an example. The Madang governor is the only governor in the opposition. He got 12 million given to him last week. And then the prime minister, when they gave the cheque to him, I told him that you've got to move over to the People's National Congress Party. So when he took the cheque, the Madang, he deposited the cheque. He never moved, he never made any intention to move to government. And surprisingly, a few days later, the cheque got bounced. And when he inquired he was stopped by the finance minister.
Peter O'Neill has denied using the funds to entice opposition MPs. Even before the bulk of the 17 MPs in the opposition following last year's election began defecting, he enjoyed an overwhelming majority. However, Paul Barker of the Institute of National Affairs says that neither this, or the fact that his government has the security of the grace period, means Mr O'Neill has an easy ride.
PAUL BARKER: He may have his numbers for constitutional reforms and so on, but he does have a team who are going to be only too ready to try and use any power and leverage with him to have their own way. So it's a balancing trick. He has the position where, if he gets more members coming onside, he can then sideline difficult ministers and replace them reasonably readily. But on the other hand, they will be playing numbers games so if they want to push through various measures, it makes it difficult for the prime minister to hold them in cheque.
Some observers fear a return to the last tenure of the previous PNG prime minister, Michael Somare, when parliament barely functioned and the opposition was sidelined. The previous Speaker, Jeffrey Nape, rarely allowed robust debate and adjourned parliament to suit the Somare regime.However the opposition leader, Belden Namah, this week on EMTV commended the new Speaker Theo Zurenuoc for allowing him to seek clarification and ask questions on a major corruption case concerning the Finance Department.
BELDEN NAMAH: The speaker really proved the parliamentary independence and democracy. And that is the way the speaker of parliament should treat every member of parliament, every question that's asked on the floor.
In the wake of the parliament scrutiny, the Prime Minister has begun suspending top officials in the Finance department - a possible sign that PNG's democracy is functioning as it's meant to.
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