By Gorethy Kenneth of the PNG Post-Courier in Port Moresby
In a historic first, the Papua New Guinea Parliament has installed Pangu Pati leader and Tari-Pori MP James Marape by a unanimous majority as the country’s ninth Prime Minister.
Immediately, in his address to the House and streamed live to the nation, Marape stuck to his belief in the mantra “Take Back PNG” and his vision to make every Papua New Guinean rich in the “richest black Christian nation on earth”.
While Marape was making his rambling victory speech to the nation, a rousing message filtered through that a second woman had successfully been elected to Parliament.
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Kessy Sawang was declared winner of the Rai Coast seat and she joins Central Governor Rufina Peter in Parliament.
Marape was elected unopposed by 97 MPs in the House which included eight opposition MPs, becoming the first Prime Minister to be voted in unopposed since 1975 — the year of independence.
Only his sworn adversary and former PM Peter O’Neill abstained from voting by walking out of the chamber before the vote was taken.
O’Neill later said it was a matter of “conscience” that forced him to walk out the chamber.
Elevated to top job
The first time Marape became Prime Minister was on May 30, 2019, when, through a serious of twists and turns — including instigating a vote of no confidence which forced O’Neill to resign as PM — Marape was elevated to the top post by a parliamentary majority of 10-8, another historic moment in PNG’s oft-times fractured Parliament.
The nine MPs of O’Neill’s People’s National Congress (PNC) party who voted for Marape were: Pomio MP Elias Kapavore, Milne Bay Governor Gordon Wesley, Alotau MP Ricky Morris, Aitape Lumi MP Anderson Mise, Ambunti Drekikir MP Johnson Wapunai, Central Governor Rufina Peter, Ijivitari MP David Arore, Kiriwina-Goodenough Douglas Tomuriesa and Kandrian Gloucester MP Joseph Lelang.
After a slight mix up of the standing orders on the person nominating a PM, East Sepik Governor Allan Bird’s nomination was superseded by Manus Governor Charlie Benjamin and seconded by Western Governor Toboi Yoto.
PNC party leader Peter O’Neill walked out of the chamber as Speaker Job Pomat read out the notice and calling for nominations for Prime Minister.
Marape said that his election was for the people and that “whatever happened yesterday, Pangu would always put the country’s interest first”.
“I seek to anchor my statement on the remarks [made on 30 May 2019]. I wanted Papua New Guinea in the next decade to be a K200 billion (NZ$90 billion) economy.
“I wanted Papua New Guinea to be the Richest Black Christian Nation on Earth. My statement recognised that our political forebears have ushered in political independence in 1975,” he said.
“They crafted legislation, built institutions, wrote policies and established relationships to deliver us political independence.”
But Marape’s speech failed to hit home with ordinary Papua New Guineans, leaving the population pondering what to expect in the country reeling from high unemployment, huge law and order issues and rising prices of basic store goods.
As Pangu and its coalition hunker down to prepare their 100-day plan, Papua New Guineans are taking to social media to raise simple questions like “when will our children return safely back to school?”, “a bag of five kilograms of rice is now K20? (NZ$9)”, and “when will the minimum wage of K3.50 (NZ$1.60 an hour) be raised to correspond with the costs of living which has spiked as a result of inflation?”.
Some are venting their anger at the lack of medicines in the biggest referral hospitals in the country — including Port Moresby General Hospital, where patients have to fork out their own money to buy panadol.
Marape continued: “This generation of leaders must deliver economic independence to Papua New Guinea.
“That Pangu has secured the mandate from Papua New Guinea can only mean that our people in the length and breadth of this country support this intention.
“It is my humble privilege to address this house as the Prime Minister. In 2019, I secured the mandate to be Prime Minister on the floor of Parliament.
‘Three very hard years’
“I served for three very hard years with the support of a lot of you.
“Today, I have secured the mandate from the people of Papua New Guinea.
“They have empowered, emboldened, and mandated me and the party to lead to be in government.
“I am privileged to lead a coalition of likeminded leaders to be your government.
“The 2022 national general election brings our country to the cusp of 50 years of nationhood.
“hree years before we turn 50 years old as a nation, Pangu gets a further opportunity to deal with some fundamental issues confronting our country.
‘Fair, healthy, happy society’
“The onus and responsibility now rest on each member of Parliament to rise up to the occasion and renew our commitment to pass on a better Papua New Guinea to the next generation.
“We are consistent with the Vision 2050 on the development phases of our country to be smart, wise, fair, healthy, and a happy society by 2050.
“It aligns nicely in that we are called to deliver economic enablers to fast-track development.
“Fastrack we must, as we do not have the luxury of time to wait around for things to happen at their pace.”
Gorethy Kenneth is a senior journalist with the PNG Post-Courier. Republished with permission.
This content originally appeared on Asia Pacific Report and was authored by APR editor.