PNG OPPOSITION MOVES TO HEAD OFF POTENTIAL SPLIT

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PORT MORESBY, Papua New Guinea (May 21, 1999 – Radio Australia)---The Papua New Guinea Opposition has moved to head off a potential split in its ranks, re-affirming it will remain united under present leader Bernard Narokobi.

Radio Australia correspondent Richard Dinnen reports that the Opposition announcement comes as it prepares for a no--confidence vote against the Government.

"With a no-confidence vote due in July when Parliament resumes, everything is up for grabs in Papua New Guinea politics.

"The emergence of a new party has further complicated an already puzzling political landscape.

"There had been talk of a so-called grand coalition forming across both sides of Parliament, but elements of the Opposition distanced themselves from the idea.

"There had also been rumors of Opposition MPs moving to join the Government.

"After what has been described as intense discussions, Opposition leader Bernard Narokobi and deputy Chris Haiveta have secured the continuing endorsement of Opposition MPs. They say the best way to remove Bill Skate's Government is for the Opposition to remain intact under its current leadership.

"This shores up the Opposition leadership, but does not resolve the issue of who would lead if the Opposition manages to form a Government in July. That's still very much a live issue.

"Richard Dinnen, Port Moresby.

PAPUA NEW GUINEA OPPOSITION STILL SPLIT OVER ‘GRAND COALITION’

PORT MORESBY, Papua New Guinea (May 19, 1999 – Post-Courier)---No consensus was reached yesterday to sort out the differing views within the Opposition camp relating to the idea of forming a grand coalition.

Pangu Pati, a major grouping in the Opposition, had earlier summoned other Opposition MPs, including leader Bernard Narokobi and National Alliance leader Sir Michael Somare, for an urgent caucus meeting yesterday morning.

The meeting was delayed until 4:00 p.m., but no consensus was reached by 5:00 p.m. by those who attended, and it was rescheduled again for lunchtime today.

The emergency Opposition caucus meeting was called for by Pangu MPs after learning from the media that Sir Michael, with the blessing of the Opposition Leader, had gone ahead to discuss with other leaders the possibility of forming a grand coalition.

Sir Michael met with Prime Minister Bill Skate last Saturday and held discussions with him covering a range of issues, including current political developments and how to bring political stability to the country given the current economic crisis.

However, Pangu leader Chris Haiveta with his 12 MPs dissociated themselves from the Opposition-backed grand coalition talks, signaling a rift within the ranks. They said they were not consulted and had not been aware of the grand coalition move.

Some Opposition MPs met earlier in the day before meeting with Pangu members, but the details of the discussion were not known.

The late afternoon meeting did not get the attention of the full Opposition MPs. However, those who attended did not reach a compromise.

Those who attended the meeting include Bernard Narokobi, Ted Diro (Central Governor), Bart Philemon (Lae), Arthur Somare (Angoram), Michael Nali (Mendi), Andrew Baing (Markham), Chris Haiveta (Gulf), Sir Pita Lus (Maprik) and Judah Akesim (Drekikir).

Meanwhile, interim national president of the National Alliance, Timothy Bonga, has defended Sir Michael's initiative to meet with other leaders.

He said there was nothing secretive about Sir Michael's move and Mr. Haiveta was fairly briefed on the matter when he returned to the country from an overseas trip.

Mr. Bonga said the Chief's approach had been frank and open and it was done as part of a political process. He said it should not be misconstrued by people and leaders within the Opposition.

"As an interim president of the National Alliance and speaking as a former MP and Speaker of Parliament, dialogue with any political grouping has always been a normal practice. Sanctioned or not, the National Alliance has been genuine about the interests and welfare of the citizens of this country and we are not going to take revenge on anyone,'' Mr. Bonga said.

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