New Papua New Guinea leader a wildcard in Pacific power play

When Papua New Guinea’s lawmakers started to shift their weight in their parliamentary seats in preparation for a tense vote on a new prime minister on Thursday, James Marape looked uninterested, his head lowered, fingers tapping his phone.

The former finance minister later explained he was preparing notes for a speech, should numbers fall his way.

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They did, and the notes turned into a powerful series of addresses which signaled a desire to reset how the archipelago conducts business and diplomacy amid a strategic battle between China and the United States for influence in the Pacific.

“We are still struggling to economically free ourselves,” Marape said at a press conference moments after he was sworn in.

“The nation needs to know that this is a break free … and the emergence of a new group of like-minded leaders,” he said referring to himself and his supporters.

Marape became prime minister after receiving 101 votes to eight in parliament, a day after former leader Peter O’Neill resigned having lost the support of the house following almost eight years in power.

The new leader told the chamber he wanted to make his country the richest black Christian nation on earth, then headed to Royal Port Moresby golf club for his regular Thursday round, according to the club’s pro, Nelson Gabriel.

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