Why I was Absent from Parliament – Part 1 of 2

Following the election of James Marape as the 8th Prime Minister, there has been numerous articles posted on social media asking the question why I was absent and abstained from voting. 

Last Wednesday, the former Prime Minister Peter O’Neill announced his resignation. Soon after resigning Members of Parliament walked over to acknowledge him. 

What was unknown to 27 Members of Opposition or William Duma’s URP, was that 4am that morning James Marape had struck a deal with Peter O’Neill to resign, which would trigger a vacancy after which Marape would lead 34 Members from the Laguna Camp across to join Crown and be their nominee for the PM position.

Why and how did it all happen? 

On Tuesday, the Members of Laguna Camp conducted a secret ballot to determine who will be named as the alternative Prime Minister. There were three main contenders for the position, James Marape, Patrick Pruaitch and William Duma. 

The numbers were stacked as follows: 

Marape 27 Members 
Pruaitch 27 Members 
Duma 13 Members 

Marape’s 27 Members included: 
Pangu – Ginsou/ Marape (21) 
People’s Party – Ipatas/ Davis/ Tongamp (3) 
Our Development Party – Puka Temu (1)
THE Party – Jeffrey Kama (1) 

Pruaitch 27 Members included: 
Original Opposition 24
Wera Mori (1) – Ex PNC / joined NA 
Tony Wouowu (1) Ex PNC / joined NA 
Social Development Party – John Kaupa (1) 

Duma’s URP Members included: 
Original URP 9 of 11 that crossed to Laguna camp 
Two absent Members, Fabian Pok & Wesley Ramani who decided to remain with Crown camp. 
Pila Ninigi (defected from PNC joined URP)
Richard Masere (defected from PNC joined Pangu then URP)
John Pundari (defected from PNC joined URP)
Douglas Tomurisea (defected from PNC joined Pangu then URP). 

Before Duma agreed to join, Laguna camp had 49 Members, short of 7 MPs to meet the required majority of 56 Members. 

Duma insisted that he would only join camp provided Marape and Pruaitch sign an MOU stating that he would become the alternative Prime Minister. This agreement was signed at 4am in the morning without the knowledge of the rest of Members in the Laguna Camp. 

Duma having this agreement in his pocket (literally) convinced four PNC Members (Ninigi, Masere, Pundari and Tomurisea) to join URP with the promise of a Ministry appointment. 

However, what Duma and the PNC Members were not aware of was that while Pruaitch and Marape may have agreed to nominate Duma, it didn’t mean the remaining Members of the Laguna camp would. 

This issue was raised on Monday morning at the Laguna camp where it was proposed that a secret ballot would determine the nominee. After some debate it was agreed the three nominees needed to discuss between themselves as to who will be the nominee and if they couldn’t decide then a secret ballot would proceed. 

Earlier on the same day, the Opposition caucus meeting was held to debrief on the latest issues concerning the nomination. Pruaitch explained that he was in discussion with Peter O’Neill about the option of joining Crown camp, where O’Neill would resign and nominate Pruaitch as the next Prime Minister. 

We were each asked for our views, on account this was not the first time the issue of joining O’Neill came up, I stood up and announced to our team that I’ve had enough of this crap and could no longer be part of a team who were considering joining O’Neill or even in discussion with him. I explained to Pruaitch that while in camp I was told that Pruaitch was in talks with O’Neill which I vehemently denied stating that he would never go back to O’Neill. I left the Opposition team since I refused to be party to any plans of joining O’Neill and I offered to help Marape’s team.

On Monday evening, the night before the secret ballot, I started lobbying with Members of Marape’s team and National Alliance Members (Allan Bird) together with URP Team (Jelta Wong) that we should just nominate James Marape to be the alternative. I was concerned that if we went to a secret ballot there would be issues. 

At 7am Tuesday morning, Duma held a caucus meeting with 13 of his Members at pool side. I checked back with Bird and Wong what their party position was, their response being they would not support Marape. 

After breakfast all 67 members of Laguna camp met to discuss who will be the nominee. There was heated debate, Wong insisting the terms of MOU that Duma should be honoured while others said that agreement is not binding because the Members were not party to it. 

Marape, Duma, and Pruaitch left the room, in their discussion Duma argued it was only fair they should honour the MOU, however Pruaitch objected making the point Duma put his hand on the Bible week’s earlier saying he would join the Laguna camp on 7th May 2019 but instead stayed with O’Neill. 

Duma realising that if it went to secret ballot he would certainly lose with only 13 MPs, he instead pulled out of the race and said whichever candidate wins he would be the Deputy Prime Minister. Unknown to Marape, Duma had already struck a deal to support Pruaitch. 

While they were in a meeting I took out my laptop and ran then numbers, anticipating Duma would back Pruaitch and having pulled out of Opposition I would cast my vote for Marape. 

Marape’s 27 MPs plus my vote would mean he would poll 28, Duma 13 backing Pruaitch 26 (less me) would poll 39. 

Marape, Duma and Pruaitch returned and they announced it was agreed Duma had pulled out and there would be secret ballot between Marape and Pruaitch. Even though I knew without a doubt Marape would lose I still voted for him, reasons for which I will provide in a later article.

Following the secret ballot the results were as predicted; Pruaitch 39, Marape 28. Soon after the ballot a press conference was staged to announce that Pruaitch would be nominee for alternative Prime Minister. 

It was evident that many of Marape’s 27 MPs who voted for him were deeply disappointed. That evening we all met in Marape’s room. I witnessed Marape explain to his team he had accepted the results.

I explained to them it was not over yet, as I expected Peter O’Neill to resign on the 11th hour to dislodge the Opposition’s notice of motion of no confidence. It would mean a vacancy in the Office of Prime Minister and parties would go back into camp to elect a new Prime Minister. 

4am that morning, the Southern Highlands Members of Crown Camp contacted James Marape to join their camp after he had lost the nomination. Marape explained the only way to return would be if O’Neill resigned. Members of the Crown camp in fear of ending up in the opposition following a vote of no confidence and National Alliance Party return to power put massive pressure on O’Neill to agree to resign. 

The fact Opposition side had taken over the Parliament Committee there was no question of doubt O’Neill would be voted out of office. 

The next morning the Laguna Camp met to sign the notice of motion to lodge it with Speaker and the committee to agree to have it listed on the notice paper. 

However, when Parliament reconvened that morning O’Neill announced his resignation, Marape took his cue to acknowledge him for it. When Parliament adjourned Marape crossed the floor and exited through the Government Members back entrance. A 25 seater bus was waiting for him with his 27 Members and on his tail was William Duma and Jelta Wong. When Duma tried to enter the bus Marape stopped him and said sorry this bus is only for 28 Members who voted for me. Of course 28th Member was me, who had no idea what had transpired. Straight after Parliament adjourned I had no intention of shaking O’Neill’s hands and left through the Opposition lounge. 

In part 2 I will explain what transpired in the 24 hours that lead to Marape’s election, why I was absent and the Oppositions scheme to block Marape from being elected by nominating O’Neill and Mekere, and how it miraculously back fired and how they unashamedly tried to cover it all up.

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