Belden Namah has been leader of the political opposition in Papua New Guinea (PNG) since 2010. He served as deputy prime minister and minister for forestry and climate change from 2011 to 2012, but was excluded from Prime Minister Peter O’Neill’s cabinet following the 2012 elections. Namah has since become a vocal government critic.
Before entering politics, Namah was a captain in the PNG Defence Force and a successful businessman in the logging industry. He was jailed from 1997 to 2003, in the aftermath of the Sandline affair, which pitted the military against the government for the latter’s attempted use of foreign mercenaries to end the Bougainville civil war.
Why is he in the news?
Namah is at the center of a tangle of legal battles that have taken center stage in PNG’s latest political drama. On January 6, Namah produced warrants for the arrests of Prime Minister O’Neill, Treasurer Don Poyle, and Finance Minister James Marape in a case relating to a $27 million payment to Port Moresby lawyers. The warrants were thrown out four days later. The government suspended the police officers who had tried to execute the warrants and an anti-corruption task force cleared all three officials of wrongdoing.
Namah then sent a letter to Police Commissioner Tom Kulunga, threatening “unprecedented measures” if the policemen were not reinstated. Kulunga responded by ordering Namah’s arrest, which was blocked by the opposition leader’s supporters. Justice Catherine Davani finally convinced all sides to take a step back in late January.
What can we expect from him?
Belden Namah is likely to remain a disrupting and possibly destabilizing force in PNG politics. Animosity between he and Prime Minister O’Neill runs deep, and Namah clearly wants the top job. He has repeatedly denied allegations that he is planning a coup, and is indeed more likely to attempt to destabilize the government through legal action and allegations of corruption.
O’Neill could try to have Namah arrested again if provoked too much. And given Namah’s colorful past, the prime minister would have plenty to investigate. O’Neill may be emboldened given his sizable majority in the highly fragmented parliament. But the constitutional crisis, and ensuing political turmoil, that brought O’Neill to power in 2011 likely gives both sides pause.