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By Joe Kanekane

PORT MORESBY, Papua New Guinea (July 23, 1999 – The Independent)---Former prime minister Bill Skate is stunned and angered at the actions of some of his former ministers who deserted him, eventually leading to his downfall. Those he singled out included Dr. Fabian Pok (Public Enterprise), Peter Waieng (Defense), Mathias Karani (Youth and Employment), Ludger Mond (Health) and Muki Taranupi (Education).

Mr. Skate said that he has never experienced such a twist of political disloyalty such as when these men deserted him. These were the very men behind the formation of his government. Rather than standing behind him and soliciting more support, they abandoned him at a time when he needed them most, with the looming vote of no confidence.

The reason for their defection from Skate was a lack of consultation by the prime minister regarding some major decisions.

Their actions, according to many, says a lot about their loyalty as members of Parliament. As elected leaders they had an obligation to their voters and they were duty bound to make a move to the opposition.

Dr. Pok had said that they were not happy with the way Mr. Skate was operating in isolation, excluding them in some of his deliberations.

However, Mr. Skate is not the only prime minister to have encountered this fate. There have been others before him who have been through the same circumstances Mr. Skate has just endured.

In 1994, Paias Wingti’s long time friend and compatriot Julius Chan dumped him and joined forces with the opposition. The offer made by then opposition leader Chris Haiveta was for Sir Julius Chan to be prime minister.

Sir Julius knew that if he remained with Wingti there was no chance he would become prime minister. There was also no chance of their forming the next government with the way the political lobbying was then.

Faced with the Supreme Court’s interpretation of Mr. Wingti’s snap reelection, support was also fading. Sir Julius was not the only one who crossed the floor. There were others like John Nilkare, David Unagi and some government ministers.

Mr. Wingti had participated in such an act before, so it was nothing new to him. He accepted his fate gracefully and remained in the opposition benches and eventually became the governor of the Western Highlands.

Mr. Wingti has always advised his PDM members not to make political enemies, even if their rivals put them in some of the most humiliating situations.

Mr. Wingti is not new to the betrayal game. He did it to Sir Michael Somare in 1985, even when Sir Michael gave him the deputy prime minister’s post and that of the Minister of National Planning.

This was quite a blow to Sir Michael because Pangu was then the only party in government after the 1982 elections. Sir Michael was grooming Mr. Wingti, who was a second term MP, ahead of Barry Holloway (Eastern Highlands), Karl Stack (West Sepik) and other senior Pangu MPs.

When Wingti stormed out and formed his PDM party he also took a handful of young MPs with him, thus splitting Pangu. A few years later Mr. Nilkare, Tony Siaguru and Mr. Stack quit Pangu and formed the League for National Advancement (LNA) Party. Pangu started losing its members, but fortunately Sir Michael gave in to demands by the caucus at a meeting in 1988 before the vote of no confidence in Paias Wingti.

The National Party’s demise is the result of betrayal after former leader Michael Mel decided to side with Paias Wingti in 1988. When Wingti asked the National Party to join the PDM camp as a coalition partner, many of them opposed it. In Highlands politics during that era the National party and PDM were having their supremacy war. With Iambakey Okuk dead, the prominence of Highlands leaders rested on Wingti and the leader of the National Party. Wingti, who was in government, knew how powerful the National Party was, and so long as they were around it was going to be a challenge for him.

Mr. Mel left the opposition and joined Wingti and was rewarded as the treasurer, while the rest of the National Party members remained with the opposition. That was the beginning of the party’s collapse. Those who remained in the opposition were fortunate to secure ministries. The faction’s leader, Paul Pora, was given the Finance portfolio, William Wii, Administrative Services and Mathias Ijape, Police. However, today Mr. Pora is the only leader of the party.

Betrayal and power go hand in hand. The great Julius Caesar was stabbed by long time confidant Brutus when he least expected it. Caesar was perhaps the most decorated and influential general and his continuous prominence was a threat to the Roman Empire.

Jesus Christ himself was betrayed by one of his disciples, Judas Iscariot, for 30 pieces of silver. Throughout history betrayal has been the norm of elevation to higher status and power.

PNG politics, although young in maturity, has adapted that trend and this makes stability of government insecure. Any prime minister leading a coalition has to be careful not to make anyone unhappy in fear of someone walking out on him, and that leaves the running of the country vulnerable.

No one is indispensable. Politics is not only a game of winning and dethroning, it is also a liability and can cost you dearly.

Political betrayal is nothing new. Thanks to it, new governments can be formed and leaders can be changed. Even if victims are hurt and angry about this practice, it is here to stay and will be as long as parliamentary democracy prevails.

For additional reports from The Independent, go to PACIFIC ISLANDS REPORT News/Information Links: Newspapers/The Independent (Papua New Guinea).

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