Sam Basil is officially the first MP to assume leadership of three political parties with no parliamentary leadership, and at least one new party. Furthermore, since entering politics, Basil has associated himself as a member of at six political parties, initiated two new political parties, moved from government to opposition after failing to changing the latter. In the political market of PNG, Basil has that entrepreneurial spirit only tech nerds in Silicon Valley have.
Basil entered politics first as a People’s Progress Party endorsed candidate, led by Sir J, and won the 2007 national elections for Wau-Bulolo Open. He subsequently switched sides in 2011 to PNG Party led by Belden Namah, where he briefly served as Minister for National Planning after the unconstitutional removal of Somare in 2011. He won again in 2012 under the PNG Party banner. Serving as PNG Party MP and deputy opposition leader is about the longest time he has ever been associated with any party. After that he has been party shopping across the 44 political party market of PNG.
In 2014 he left PNG Party to become the party leader of Pangu Pati, a party that didn’t have parliamentary leader at the time. This move had widespread support in Morobe and other parts of PNG. Pangu Pati has a historical place in PNG, and the fact that Sam Basil had been consistent voice of reason, and a voice against corruption and mismanagement, many saw this move as a force for change. Some of them candudates he endorsed for the 2017 elections were equally popular figures, including Bryan Kramer. Morobe Province, one of the bases that Pangu Pati had first established branches in the lead up to independence took ownership again, and voted 8 Pangu MPs. In neighbouring Madang Bryan Kramer won, one in Oro and another in Goilala. Reputable individuals like Robert Agarobe and Sir Mekere Mourata joined them later on. Pangu was now back in a big way.Then in August of 2017, after failing to initially form the alternate government, Basil announced his party’s move to the government side. This is probably where Sam Basil lost the revered status that he cultivated over a decade. He was the embodiment of anti-O’Neill, anti-PNC sentiments. I would even argue that the reason why Pangu did well in 2017 was because of Sam Basil’s ability to personalise the anti-O’Neill/PNC sentiments which was shared by many people. All the incumbent MPs who lost their seats in Morobe in 2017 were either O’Neill’s PNC MPs or those who were supportive of O’Neill in the 2012 – 2017 term. It was an indication of Basil’s effective campaign against O’Neill, and the people of Morobe again rallying behind the old Pangu brand.
His reason for switching sides to O’Neill led coalition? He said he did not want his new MPs to be deprived of DSIP/PSIP. There were claims that the O’Neill government has a habit of rewarding MPs with the SIP funds for supporting the government, and disciplining them for criticising the government by withholding or delaying the payments. Basil, Namah, and Juffa have been the most vocal against this injustice. But 2017 was different: the opposition had a very huge presence – 46 MPs. It would have been a foolish thing if O’Neill had to continue this ‘discipline.’ Basil led about 14 MPs to the government. Other like Bryan Kramer and Sir Mek protested this move and remained in the opposition.
In May of 2019, Sam Basil broke away from Pangu Pati, and joined Melanesian Alliance, taking all Pangu Pati MPs except one, Ginson Soanu, the governor for Morobe who refused to leave Pangu. This was Sam Basil’s fourth switch between parties (PPP, PNG Party, Pangu Pati and Melanesian Alliance). This was also the second time Sam Basil moved to a party without a MP (MA did not have any MP in parliament, just like Pangu Pati, in 2014 when Basil made his move). This was also the second time Sam Basil assumed party leadership of another party without leadership.
During the MP movements that led to change of the PM, 6 Melanesian Alliance MPs (former Pangu Pati MPs) left MA and moved back to Pangu Pati – eventually joined by 22 others from different parties, among them was Marape and 14 MPs who followed him. Marape was elected as PM when O’Neill resigned on 30 May 2019.Also during this period when MPs were switching sides, Sam Basil was said to form a new party, Our Party. He was/would have been the default party leader of Our Party. That would make it the 3rd time Sam Basil was the leader of a political party, and his first for a party he formed. However, Basil remained as MA leader with the remnants of Pangu Pati defectors.
Yesterday (5 Nov 2019) Radio NZ reported Basil forming a new party, United Labour Party. This will be the second party he forms, and second time he assumes leadership of the party he formed. But in total, this would be Sam Basil’s 4th leadership of a party – Pangu Pati, MA, Our Party & United Labour Party. He was deputy party leader for PNG party if you wanna count that as well.
In his party hopping journey he has proven this one thing beyond doubt: Basil has no policy conviction. You join a party because you identify with the policies, values, and ideologies. Basil has been to different parties, with different policies. He’s been to coalitions that had different policies (PNC has free education as a policy, Pangu has subsidized – despite the differences he led Pangu over to join PNC).
We don’t know what Basil stands for… if he ever became the PM, which policies would he implement: PPP? PNG Party? Pangu Pati? Our Party? Melanesian Alliance? United Labour Party? By believing all, he believes in nothing.
Sam Basil is not alone in this. Almost all MPs in the current parliament have been guilty of at least one of this: switched parties, switched sides in parliament, assumed leadership of another/new political parties, broke away and formed new parties, and for those who have not done so yet (if there is any), they will be guilty of one before 2022 national elections. In May 2019, Open MP for Sohe MP of Oro Province switched sides 5 times in three weeks. So Basil is not alone. However, the case of Basil is unique to the extend that he has done everything known under the sun except for the PM position. And if he does conquer that one day, which policies will he implement?
PS: in one of his posts, Bryan Kramer claimed that the reason Basil switched from opposition to government in 2017 was so that he could become the prime minister one day. Basil confided in Kramer (back in the good days) that prime minister in PNG is changed within the government ranks. He was correct in that, except this time it was Marape’s season. If this is true, we can conclude that the entrepreneur spirit of Basil has one goal: PM post.
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