IS PNC INTACT? -THE INSIDE TRACK ON A VOTE OF NO CONFIDENCE - PART 2

by BRYAN KRAMER

This Part 2 of a two part series providing an insight into the looming vote of no confidence (VNC) against Peter O'Neill planned by the Opposition during the current session of Parliament. Part 1 covered the constitutional and procedural process that must be followed before Parliament may consider a VNC.
To recap, the Constitution (section 145) stipulates that a motion of VNC may be proposed by any member of Parliament; however it must name the next Prime Minister, be signed by no less than 12 MPs, and give no less than one week’s notice in accordance with the standing orders of Parliament.
Standing Orders stipulate the notice of VNC must be delivered to the Speaker of Parliament and tabled before Private Business Committee on a Wednesday to determine the motion is of national importance. It must then be delivered to Clerk of Parliament to be listed on the Notice Paper on a Thursday sitting (Private Business Day).
This article will discuss how the Opposition would secure 12 MPs to sign the motion; the required 55 MPs to ensure the motion succeeds; the likely nominees; whether the motion and will succeed; and the desperate measures Peter O'Neill may take to avoid being voted out.
Parliament convened today (Tuesday) October 27 at 10:30am. Unlike previous sittings this was the most anticipated sitting since the impasse in 2011. The two questions on everyone’s lips is will the Opposition move a VNC and more importantly will it succeed?
The Opposition has 9 members and needs the support of three more to meet the required 12 MPs to sign the notice of VNC. They will likely try to ensure more than 12 MPs sign the notice in anticipation that one or two may be induced or bribed by the O'Neill Government to withdraw their support once the motion is tabled in Parliament.
So where will the three (or more) MPs required to sign the notice come from?
After tracking recent political issues reported in the media, including the new division in the National Alliance camp and the public announcement by the Governor of Morobe calling for a Morobe block, with the support of Lae Open Member Loujaya Toni, I suspect MPs from these two factions will provide numbers to ensure the VNC is adequately supported.
So when will the motion be filed?
I suspect it will be filed tomorrow morning by the Opposition to allow the Private Business Committee who are required to convene on a Wednesday to determine the motion is of national importance and delivered to the Clerk of Parliament.
Will it be tabled in Parliament?
In principle the motion should have no issue being approved by the Private Business Committee, listed on the Notice Paper and moved on the floor of Parliament. However I suspect Peter O'Neill and loyal members of his Party may play out a number of options to prevent it being tabled. These include giving the committee members instructions to refuse to approve it; or deliberately fail to convene or defer the meeting to next Wednesday in an effort to delay or frustrate the process.
Should the O'Neill Government refuse to consider the motion it would force the Opposition to file a Judicial Review, dragging the issue out in Court. However given the national importance and the issues being straight forward I suspect the Court would expedite the matter, ordering the motion be listed on the Notice Paper.
Assuming the VNC is lodged, considered and approved by the Committee tomorrow (Wednesday) the earliest it may be tabled in Parliament is next Thursday. This is to ensure it complies with the one-week notice period. It will need to be is listed on the Notice Paper and the mover of the VNC – in this case the Opposition Leader Don Polye – will need to be present to move it.
So will the motion succeed in securing the support of 55 MPs? (50% plus one or the majority of Parliament) To better answer this question lets first review how the numbers stack up.
Government (100)
Peoples National Congress Party (PNC) – Leader: Peter O'Neill (61)
National Alliance Party (NA) – Leader: Patrick Pruaitch (15)
United Resource Party (UPR) – Leader: William Duma (8)
Peoples Progress Party (PPP) – Leader: Ben Micah (6)
Peoples United Assembly (PUA) – Leader: Anderson Agiru (3)
Peoples Democratic Movement (PDM) – Leader: Pais Wingti (2)
Independents (3)
- Kelly Naru Morobe Governor
- Cumilus Bongoro Kerowagi Open EHP
- Mehrra Kipefa Obura-Woneara Open EHP
Opposition (9)
Triumphant Heritage Party (THE) – Leader: Don Polye (4)
Pangu Party – Leader: Sam Basil (2)
PNG Party – Leader: Belden Namah (1)
Melanesian Liberal Party – Leader: Allan Marat (1)
People's Movement for Change Party - Leader: Gary Juffa (1)
There are a number of ways you may work the numbers. For the opposition, it’s not about overthrowing the Government but overthrowing Peter O'Neill as the head of the Government. To achieve this they must force a number of strategic outcomes, causing a split or division in PNC and invite a suitable PNC candidate to be PM while maintaining the support of the majority of coalition parities and keeping their own numbers intact.
So how many PNC members do they need?
The majority number required is 55 MPs so theoretically if they cause 6 PNC MPs to defect from PNC then they could overthrow Peter O'Neill. (PNC 61 - 6 = 55 MPs ). But we don't live in a theoretical world. In reality there are a number of coalition MPs who will side with O'Neil - those who enjoyed in the spoils under his leadership. The obvious being Patrick Pruaitch, Ben Micah and number of their own party members who hold Ministerial portfolios. They would be reluctant to give up their K120,000 per annum salary; Ministerial title and the powers and privileges that come with it.
Without naming names, I have identified around 12 MPs in total. Assuming we took them into account, then the strike number, or PNC MPs who need to defect or remain with PNC but support the call for O'Neill to step aside in the interest of the Party is 19 (19 out of 61 is certainly achievable).
So what would entice 19 PNC MPs to support a reshuffle of their own party?
Firstly, an offer to be Prime Minister and secondly, dumping the core of the self-serving PNC and freeing up 29 ministry positions (25 PNC, 4 others). NEC is made up of 33 MPs,
PNC (25),
NA (3)
URP (3)
PPP (2)
After closely examining the PNC MPs in detail, I've identified 32 MPs who are sensible enough to consider such a move. However without a clear path to achieving a decisive outcome, they may not risk it. They need one of their own Members to challenge the leadership of Peter O'Neill. Up until now the only person who has is Nick Kuman, the founding member of the Party. Kuman recently issued a public statement headlined, "PNC will beat Vote". I'm sure he was encouraged to do this to test his loyalty to the Party. You will notice that the most part of Kuman's statement focused on PNC rather than Peter O'Neill. The statement read;
"I want to say this. I am one of the founders of the PNC Party and I serve one leader who is the Prime Minister and we are managing the current political and economic situation.
"It is my very strong view that the motion of no confidence provisions of the constitution, since the enactment of the integrity laws, must be applied accordingly within the mandate granted to PNC after the 2012 elections by the Governor-General."
He subtly hinted the fact he was one of the founding fathers and he serves the one leader who is the Prime Minister, but he did not say that leader was Peter O'Neill. He goes on to note that any vote of no confidence must be applied within the mandate granted to PNC.
Even the Prime Minister's most recent statement, "If there is anything that will happen, it will happen within PNC. So I think the Opposition and other members who want to form the Government should go to court and seek their interpretation."
It’s my view a VNC is not likely to succeed this time round unless Kuman moves on the leadership. He may never get a better opportunity. Right now Peter O'Neill has lost public favour and in the coming months may face arrest. Parliament may not be in session and Kuman will lose the chance when this happens.
Kuman would also need blessings from the likes of Sir Julius Chan and Pais Wingti. Wingti is known to be a bit of an enigma, never making his political intentions known. Like a shark he lurks in the shadows at a distance and only strikes when there is blood in the water. Up until now, O'Neill has managed to keep Wingti content by funding a number of major impact projects in his Province, but now the funds in Waigani have dried up and as Wingti’s projects come to a stand still, he may consider sinking his teeth into the Prime Minister position. In contrast Chan is like a formidable chess player. He will exercise patience before making his intentions known. When he does take a position you can expect he has only done so having mapped out his next four moves. Chan and Wingti are very close friends and political allies. If Chan takes a position, it may be a distraction for Wingti to launch a surprise attack. There is also the party leader of URP William Duma has 8 MPs who has lasting existing relationships with large number of Members any change will also hinge on his support. Don Polye who holds the trigger, notice of the VNC, cements his seat at the table to determine any change. A strategic option to Polye is insert his name as next Prime Minister to allow the motion to pass through the vetting process with the option to amend it on the day it is tabled.
Whatever the outcome of VNC, O'Neill's days as Prime Minister, previously enjoying the overwhelming support of Parliament and the public, are certainly numbered. His recent rather embarrassing outbursts in the media, describing the current protests by non-government organizations as the actions of 'power hungry NGOs'. "They are running around as if they are god’s gift to mankind." "It’s easy to talk and yell out and scream because you have the loud voice. But doing the actual work is a challenge where only a few can do that," he said. Such remarks from a Prime Minister are unbecoming and a sign of a person struggling to maintain his composure.
I suspect we will soon find out whether Kuman will make a move for the top post. Soon after I post this article, I expect O'Neill to call on him to make a public announcement that he remains subservient O'Neill. If none is forth-coming then you'll know it's game on. If Kuman bows down then his aspiration to be PM will be over before it ever started.
So what happens if the VNC fails to succeed?
Politically it's essential to laying the platform for any likely successful VNC in the near future. It serves to test the numbers on the floor it will cause division and creation of new alliances Backbenchers who were previously irrelevant will also use it to their advantage to hold the Prime Minister to ransom.

Interesting times ahead......

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