Ideology: The Missing Ingredient in PNG Politics
“Once the rudiments of loyalty are in place, the ambitious have been inclined to work with them to promote their own political advancement, and they have availed themselves of the symbols of loyalty to mobilize popular support for their own personal ends” – Political Loyalty and the Nation-State
I was recently in Australia on my way back to PNG when the Kevin Rudd and Julia Gillard spill over the leadership of the Australian Labour Party was in full swing. It was an unprecedented situation in Australia’s political history concerned with who had the factional support to be Prime Minister. It was captivating politics.
In the end it was a very weary-eyed Gillard who won the ALP caucus vote convincingly, leaving a beaten Rudd to retreat to the backbenches in defeat. However, as I watched Kevin Rudd congratulate Julia Gillard on her win, I was struck by his conviction and his belief in the ALP.
Indeed, throughout the days leading up to the ALP caucus vote, those Gillard frontbenchers who publicly voiced their support for Rudd all mentioned or highlighted the fact that they were Labor people – through and through.
Simultaneously, both Rudd and Gillard each repeatedly informed the Australian public that they weren’t just the best Labour leader for Prime Minister, they were the only leader for Australia. Tony Abbot and the Liberals were always berated in the same breath.
Ideology drives Australian politics, and this in turn creates a degree of political loyalty or at least political symmetry which enables a group of like-minded members of parliament with the same fundamental beliefs and ideas to work hard at delivering a set of policies aimed at garnering the favour of Australian constituents.
This isn’t the case in Papua New Guinea.
It was interesting to read Sir John Kaputin’s comments late last month on the present state of politics in PNG. Drawing from his 30 years of parliamentary experience Kaputin lashed out at the current political convulsions in Waigani warning that the political issues PNG is facing are not to be blamed on the institutions of the state, but rather, on politicians who are misusing state apparatus out of political ambition and greed.
“During my years in parliament, many parliamentary and ministerial practices began to change, supposedly in the name of political stability and progress. But, as the proliferation of political parties increased, and party platforms became meaningless documents without any commitment and loyalty, leaders of successive governments-of-the-day (prime ministers) realised that they could never count on their followers, whether as party members or members of a coalition.
In order to keep members together, one requires a lot of money – which our leaders do not have in the bank legally but as a result of corruption. Political horse-trading has become so competitive that, unless one is connected to those who have the financial resources…becoming prime minister is a no-go zone for anyone without a great deal of money. “
Kaputin’s view is shared by senior Australian diplomats. As part of WikiLeaks publication of the Global Intelligence Files from Stratfor, Source CN65 (Bill O’Chee) reveals that one of Australia’s most senior diplomats believed that:
“The standard of [PNG’s] political class is clearly lower than it was fifteen years ago. The old guys got corrupt and lazy, and outdated. The newer guys have been obsessed with personal wealth, and lack the respect for the offices they hold, which the previous generation had”.
It is no secret that when compared to Western contemporaries, and with only a few exceptions, Melanesian politicians are generally not proactive, and certainly not policy active. They are instead coerced by external parties propagated by the individuals’ desire to better off one’s self; thus they are easily influenced by the promises of money and power.
Political ideologies in PNG’s parliament are even more fickle than its politicians, and this is reflected in the 41 registered political parties which contested the 109 available parliamentary seats in the 2007 General Election (when compared to the 14 registered parties which contested the 120 available seats in NZ’s 2012 General Election). It would be an almost impossible task to map these 41 political parties on the political spectrum in the traditional context.
An example of PNG’s political ideological challenge is Don Polye’s new political party, an off-shoot from the former ruling Somare/Abal National Alliance Party, the so-called Triumph Heritage Empowerment (THE) Party.
According to Polye:
“‘Triumph’ means that as humans, everyone shall use their intelligence given by God to creatively triumph over all shortcomings, problems and obstacles.
‘Heritage’ means that every person recognised their heritage which emphasised family values, the main source of strength and character in a multi-cultural Papua New Guinea.
And ‘Empowerment’ means that as a Party, everyone shall pursue people empowerment policies and programmes that enable our people by giving them the mental as well as the physical capacity and strengths to make independent personal choices and decision for themselves and their families.”
Where is the political ideology essential for creating political loyalty within the THE Party? Instead of a group of ideologically-driven politicians with fundamentally shared beliefs, the THE Party is the type of government coalition partner which fits well the recent description of PNG as labelled by leaked US cables, i.e. a “dysfunctional blob“.
Therefore, it was interesting to read in yesterday’s The National Don Polye’s very public announcement that he would remain a loyal coalition partner to the current government despite being stripped of the Finance and Treasury portfolio by Peter O’Neill for failing to adequately deal with landowner payments. Polye declared: “My stand is very clear. I will make sure that the O’Neill-led government will be in power and I will do whatever I can to support it.”
Although Polye’s comment bears strikingly similar sentiments to those expressed in Kevin Rudd’s congratulatory speech, at least both Rudd and Gillard knew for certain that each had the support of the other and their respective ALP supporters when it came to political ideologies.
Peter O’Neill doesn’t have that fundamental anchor to rely on. It’s a luxury he hasn’t had and won’t have in the nearby future.
But it’s something PNG politics desperately needs.