|Photo: Jason South|
AS THE only female MP in Papua New Guinea's resolutely macho 109-member Parliament, Queensland-born Dame Carol Kidu is well accustomed to running a lonely race. Now she's proposing to form a one-woman opposition and - in the absence of other contenders - be recognised by the Parliament as opposition leader. The move was compelled by her distress over the political machinations behind the short-lived military mutiny on Thursday which aimed to restore Grand Chief Sir Michael Somare as prime minister.
Dame Carol is a long-serving and loyal minister in the Somare government and a steadfast figure within the cabinet-in-(internal) exile which has maintained an unrelenting battle to be restored to power since being deposed last August. She is distancing herself from the desperate actions of Somare loyalists who reportedly endorsed the abortive coup attempt. While continuing to insist that Sir Michael's removal was illegal and that Prime Minister Peter O'Neill's claim to power is unconstitutional - as was declared in the judgment of the Supreme Court in December - Dame Carol said: ''We must uphold the rule of law. Thus I am uncomfortable with the media statements (if correct) that the Somare government endorsed actions that are outside the rule of law.
''I wish to make it clear that I was not present in any such meetings and I disassociate myself from active participation in both factions in the ongoing political impasse.'' In a statement yesterday she said: ''I have not changed my position that, although Parliament is the supreme legislator as rightly claimed by the O'Neill government, it is not supreme in itself and is answerable to the constitution and to the Supreme Court of Papua New Guinea.'' Despite this, Dame Carol told The Sunday Age that the fractured and fragile nation urgently required a functional Parliament and an active, questioning opposition in the months leading up to the general election scheduled for mid-year.
''I am willing to concede to the reality now - though I don't accept it as being correct. It's about pragmatism,'' she said. Ever since the vote controversially deposing Sir Michael six months ago, Mr O'Neill has presided over a Parliament without an opposition, capitalising on the vacuum with a series of popular, unchallenged promises of free education, health, corruption-busting and the like to win over the restive population ahead of the poll. The Somare camp refused to take their seats on the opposition benches, arguing that this would only concede defeat. While Dame Carol has continued to attend the Parliament sittings, compromising with a seat on the middle benches, most days she is the only member not on the government side. She has now written to the Speaker asking to be allocated a seat on the opposition benches.
With the government operating unchallenged, Dame Carol says she is fearful of continuing poor policy and of losing the momentum required to drive critical legislative actions to prepare for the looming election and to repair years of institutional decay. The chaos and inertia which has gripped the power structure and public service in recent months would continue, she said, and the nation would slip further into decline.
''It all comes back to the same issue - we need stability in politics to give enough time to focus on fixing things. We need a bipartisan approach to start some real work on the constitution so we don't end up in a situation of bloodshed. ''The government and the opposition must recognise that this crisis has a deeper origin than the recent events.''
Wide popular support as well as political numbers allowed the O'Neill alliance to maintain its grip on power through the wild power plays of recent months. While many citizens continue to hold Sir Michael in high regard in recognition of his enduring leadership, unhappiness with his government has seen many people embrace change. While the appearance of guns on the streets of Port Moresby and talk of coups are what galvanise international interest in PNG politics, the reality is that there is an enduring political crisis in PNG which wreaks havoc on citizens who have little if any access to the most basic services.
The five-yearly election is always tumultuous in a democracy of almost 7 million people, who speak more than 800 languages. Many live in extreme poverty as a consequence of widespread corruption and the failure of successive governments to maintain and deliver services. Veteran election observers have voiced fears that the 2012 election will stir more violence in highlands electorates where local ethnic tensions have been exacerbated by the sudden wealth of the resources boom, rapid modernity and population shifts.
[Sydney Morning Herald - Jo Chandler]
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