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‘Historic’ vote turns up nothing for women’s equality

By Madeleine Arek

PORT MORESBY, Papua New Guinea (The National, Mar 11, 2009) - The Government yesterday failed to produce the numbers required to pass the historic motion to have women representatives in Parliament.

The Opposition, led by Sir Mekere Morauta, argued against the motion and voted against it, and its failure was virtually guaranteed by the absence of 33 Members from the House.

The motion needed to be passed by a two-third majority of 73 votes in order to vote in the first woman nominee, Mary Toliman.

The Government could muster only 60 votes, with 16 MPs voting against the motion.

A total of 33MPs, most of them Government MPs, failed to turn up and vote for the Bill, although it was the subject of a heated debate in Government caucus earlier this week.

Government MPs who walked out of the Chambers to abstain from voting included Sumkar MP Ken Fairweather and Enga Governor Peter Ipatas.

Western province Governor Dr. Bob Danaya complained that Members were not given a brief biodata of the woman candidate they were voting for, and walked out of the chamber.

The Speaker ordered Danaya back in, and he voted against the bill.

Defence Minister Bob Dadae and Foreign Affairs Minister Sam Abal were among the notable absentees.

After the motion was defeated, the Government saved the bill from being removed from the notice paper by successfully rescinding the vote. This would enable them to bring it up again when they feel they have the numbers to pass it.

Danaya said he had issues he wanted settled before he could vote, which created a commotion in Parliament, with him getting sent out of the chambers by Speaker Jeffrey Nape and then being recalled.

The motion, if passed, would have allowed for three more women on the floor of Parliament, bringing to fruition sections 101 and 102 of the Constitution.

Outside Parliament, Community Development Minister Dame Carol Kidu, who has been working tirelessly to ensure there are special measures for women in place before she leaves politics in 2012, said she was pleased with the proceedings in Parliament, especially since affirmative action for women has never come so close to being endorsed.

She said what transpired showed that there was still a lot of work to be done but she was confident that, with the backing of Sir Michael and Deputy Prime Minister Dr Puka Temu, the motion could be passed before the end of the week.

"I’m sure we will have the numbers to pass it . . . maybe even tomorrow (today)," she said.

"It is still on the notice papers and can be introduced whenever Government feels it has the numbers, so all is not lost," she said, trying to reassure the women of Papua New Guinea that theirs was not a lost cause.

Sir Michael was hoping for a strong, clear "yes" from the Government and Opposition alike and had called upon every Member to speak clearly with their vote so that this Parliament would say "daughters of Papua New Guinea, welcome home" and, while they did speak clearly, it was to say "no".

Despite all the efforts in his eight-page statement to convince Parliament that because women, who constitute more than 50 percent of the population, have never been properly represented and should be allowed to do so now, Sir Michael could not muster the votes.But the Opposition thought otherwise and, while maintaining that they did support affirmative action for women, said they would support a process that was legal.

"The Opposition will support any process to increase the representation of women in Parliament that is meaningful in that it must lead to a sizeable number of women in Parliament; proscribed by law and must not be subject to the discretion of any Prime Minister or Government and must be based on the premise that membership of Parliament is an elected office," Sir Mekere said.

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