By Gorethy Kenneth in Port Moresby
People’s National Congress party leader Peter O’Neill has blown the race for the Papua New Guinea prime minister’s job wide open by declaring he will not run for the country’s top post.
As the national election winds down and lobbying intensifies among Pangu Pati, People’s National Congress (PNC), United Resources Party (URP), People’s Progress Party (PPP) and the National Alliance (NA), the one-time prime minister O’Neill said his party would support an alternative prime minister candidate.
The bombshell from O’Neill is likely to shake up the Pangu camp on Loloata Island which contains several aspiring PM-minded politicians.
O’Neill also appealed to the elected leaders to choose a prime minister who could heal the nation from the chaos that has plunged the country into election-related violence.
He wants to focus on Ialibu-Pangia and Southern Highlands and wants to give an opportunity to those who have been elected the right way to put their hands up.
“You will have my 100 percent support and I ask nothing special in return,” the former PM said yesterday.
O’Neill had gone to the election, vying to form government but the dismal performance of his PNC party may have forced his change of heart for the top job.
Not just about O’Neill or Marape
He said that the position of prime minister should not just be about O’Neill or Marape.
“Let me make it clear. I do not believe that I have a right to be the only alternative to Marape for the prime minister position.
“It was my greatest privilege to lead Papua New Guinea, but I recognise that we need to heal and move forward, and that the restoration may move faster when leaders listen to the will of the people,” he said.
“I encourage leaders who have been elected properly and who are genuinely interested in rescuing PNG from the economic and social chaos Marape has plunged the country into over the past three years, to consider putting their hand up for the top job.
“The role of prime minister should be filled by a person who has firstly been elected with integrity — who has been mandated by the people honestly.
“It is a critical junction for our young nation, and we urgently need a Papua New Guinean who has a vision for our country and who can pull the nation together and lead us forward.
He said there was a very worrying “fake government” which had fostered deep hatred under the Marape leadership that was tearing at the cohesion that had kept the country peaceful.
“There are no celebrations around the country despite the apparently overwhelming election of Pangu candidates,” he said.
“Very strange, no one at all seems proud of their apparent chosen leaders, rather people are scared with no one to turn to with all avenues for justice closed off to the regular person.
“The national general election has magnified the level of violence, hatred, and unfairness in society and it is time for a leader to step forward who can bring peace and execute on clear policies.
“I am prepared to support alternative prime minister candidates as I and my party are prepared to do whatever it takes to rescue PNG,” he declared in Port Moresby.
“I can assure those who may contemplate being the next prime minister, that the propaganda coming from the locked and guarded at Kalabus Pangu (Loloata Resort) is not true.
“Leaders are worried the economy is in tatters. They are asking why our economy is performing so badly that the IMF has announced that they are opening a dedicated office in Port Moresby to monitor more closely the Treasury functions.”
O’Neill said the closure of the Porgera mine and the failure to move ahead in three years with any new major investments such as Wafi Golpu, along with massive borrowings and wastage had “shredded our financial position”.
He said genuine leaders did not want another five years like the last three.
“Our children are growing up thinking this violent society is normal,” he said.
“We now seem to be in freefall economically and socially and need to use this moment in time to reset ourselves and move forward with new leadership.”
Gorethy Kenneth is a PNG Post-Courier journalist. Republished with permission.