Divisions caused by ‘PNG Constitutional Crisis’ will drive Formation of new Government
The Garamut examines how the formation of PNG’s ninth parliament may transpire given the key drivers which have established current political alliances, likely electoral and party winners, and the impact of PNG’s new political parties and fresh independents:
It has been clear since Sir Michael Somare initially challenged in court Peter O’Neill’s wrestling of the Prime Ministership from him in December 2011, after returning from three months of life-saving medical treatment in Singapore, that the best way to end the political stalemate and the resulting constitutional crisis was to head to elections.
As elections drew nearer, and political parties were created and registered, and after individuals made their intention to contest known, it became more apparent that the effects of PNG’s Constitutional Crisis on the domestic political landscape would have long-term consequences.
Now that polling has begun and certain pre-election coalition agreements and partnerships have been entered into, it is clear that the formation of the next Government and by default, the Opposition, will largely be influenced by the existing divisions caused by the constitutional crisis.
Already we have seen a significant partnership entered into by current government coalition partners and the two stalwarts of the ‘new’ faction – Peter O’Neill’s People’s National Congress (PNC) and Belden Namah’s PNG Party.
The pact stipulates two key conditions: that neither party will endorse a candidate in an electorate which one of the two commands significant support of through a sitting MP, and that the party that brings home the largest number of electoral winners will take the lead in the push to form government.
With the PNG Party fielding 91 candidates and PNC 89, the most candidates endorsed by any two parties, the chances of either party producing the most electoral winners is significant; and with the support of each other, the possibility of a substantive coalition based on an already established working relationship, although somewhat delicate due to personality issues, is also high.
The two are also counting on the continued support of William Duma’s United Resources’ Party (URP) which has endorsed 49 candidates – support evidenced by a particular number of orchestrated moves between PNG Party, PNC and URP to unseat sitting MPs belonging to National Alliance (NA), a good example being current NA strong-man for Baiyer-Mul Open Sani Rambi.
The major push to form government post-election will primarily be a fight between two factions – the ‘old’ and the ‘new’. The ‘old’ have successfully framed the ‘new’ as being “rogues in parliament” with no respect for the Constitution or the laws of the land, while the ‘new’ have argued that the ‘old’ have squandered the nation’s wealth and that it is time for “young and vibrant” leadership to steer PNG into a new era of prosperity.
Leading the charge for the old guard is Sir Michael Somare who is standing 74 candidates under National Alliance. Supporting NA’s catch cry of the need to “defend” and to “restore” the Constitution are some of PNG’s oldest political parties (some even responsible for drafting the Mama Lo) including PANGU Pati, PNG National Party, People’s Party, People’s United Assembly, Melanesian Alliance and People’s First Party.
Although the elections will thankfully solve the issue of legitimacy, they will not solve or help address the deep emotional and personal feelings which leading contenders, both individual and party-orientated, hold against each other.
These are not just fleeting emotions associated with losing a political point on the debating floor of the Haus Tambaran which can be simply accepted and forgotten – these are emotions that strike to the very essence of what being a ‘Bik Man’ means to one’s self, people and society.
And regarding Sir Michael Somare specifically, it is to do with being consecutively humiliated as the ‘Father of the Nation’ and a Member of Parliament of 44 years by the ‘new’ – the principal reason why he has chosen to stand again for the last time.
The severity of this feeling is aptly reflected by Sir Michael’s repeated pledge to have current Prime Minister Peter O’Neill, Deputy Prime Minister Belden Namah, Attorney General Dr Allan Marat and Speaker Jeffery Nape thrown into jail on contempt of court charges if he forms government.
It is for these reasons, and the possibility of facing that ill-fated conclusion, that even if presented with the opportunity of working together to be the next government, the ‘old’ and the ‘new’ will not agree to do so.
But there is a third key faction here too which will play a significant role and will be a genuine force if they play their cards right: political parties and independents that are contesting an election for the first time and are not tainted by the politics of the past.
This faction includes Gary Juffa’s People’s Movement for Change Party which has endorsed 49 candidates all meeting the compulsory requirement of not being a former or current MP; Joseph Lelang’s Coalition for Reform Party which is contesting 15 well-chosen strategic seats – their focus is on winning West New Britain; Dr Ila Geno’s PNG Constitutional Democratic Party (39 candidates) and Peter Donigi’s Mama Papa Graun Pati (21 candidates).
It also includes well-supported independents capable of winning their seats, most notably Robert Agorabe (NCD Regional) and Dr Wari Iamo (Abau Open) – and one from the past Sam Abal (Wabag Open), who has become so disillusioned with party politics that he is standing for election as an independent for the first time.
The telling factor hindering this third faction is the lack of political experience these parties and independents collectively possess. There is a need for them to align themselves with experienced coalition partners that have not been branded or perceived as being key players in PNG’s Constitutional Crisis – this includes the ‘new’ as well as the ‘old’.
There have been reports that such a group calling itself the “Alternate Government Forum” exists and that it has the support of a handful of parties that are coalition-partners in the current government. This is an interesting permutation.
The most logical party to be in this position would be Don Polye’s Triumph Heritage Party (THE) which has endorsed an impressive 73 candidates. Not only has Polye been able to stay relatively clear of the carnage created by the political impasse, his was the only political voice in the Haus Tambaran that urged the ‘old’ and the ‘new’ to reconcile, heal the wounds and address the deep emotions present using the Melanesian Way.
Unfortunately his advice wasn’t acted upon, and foreseeing the long-term effects of PNG’s Constitutional Crisis, Polye moved quickly to create the THE Party in time to contest the elections. It has been a smart move designed to allow himself the flexibility to remain a potential coalition partner to the faction which can offer him the best shot at being a prime minister of PNG, if not the Prime Minister.
I think it is fair to say that Don Polye has been slighted by both the ‘old’ and the ‘new’ regarding his political contributions. It would be challenging for Polye to accept another term under either faction, and it would be his hope that he comes away with the most electoral winners.
The second party to be in a position to help any such ‘Independent Bloc’ would be current NCD Governor Powes Parkop’s Social Democratic Party (SDP), which reluctantly endorsed 40 candidates after intense external demand to amend its original decision to only run with 20.
Parkop himself has been in Sir Michael’s firing line for not standing up for the Constitution given his pre-politics reputation as being a fire-brand human rights lawyer, but would favor a chance to switch allegiances from the ‘new’ O’Neill/Namah faction to that of a more streamlined government – particularly one that is willing to proactively address the issue of West Papua.
In identifying THE and SDP as being the two most logical partners for an ‘Independent Bloc’, there are two other political parties – themselves in a political alliance – that would cherish the opportunity to move out of the shadows of the ‘old’ and the ‘new’.
These would be Sir Julius Chan’s People’s Progress Party and Paias Wingti’s People’s Democractic Movement – and both would enjoy a similar mentoring role to that of Sir Mekere Morauta’s performance with PNG Party’s current leaders.
In observing the above, there still exist a number of dark horses in the race to be one of a handful of minor, but necessary, coalition partners. These parties, although endorsing considerable numbers, are only represented by less than five seats in the current parliament.
This category includes Thomson Haroquveh’s PNG Country Party (47), Bob Danaya’s PNG Labour Party (34) and Bart Philemon’s New Generation Party (26). Also a part of the dark horse club are those parties that have yet to win a seat but stand a good chance to do so now for the first time – particularly Janet Sape’s League for Democracy Party, Dr Clement Waine’s Stars Alliance Party and Dorothy Tekwie’s PNG Greens Party.
Where these three parties will lean if they do win a seat is unclear, but a general assumption would be that if they do win small, as would be the case, then they would prefer a seat on the front-benches of Government and not the backbenches of the Opposition.
There are a number of political parties that I have failed to mention, approximately twenty of them, and the truth is that they would be better off saving their K10,000 political party registration fee and staying home to tend to their gardens – but every country has them, and we have our fair share too.
Perhaps the most annoying of the lot, and perennial losers at that, is the Mapai Levites Party, Kingdom First Party, National Front Party, Pan-Melanesian Congress Party (kudos for a great name), Transform PNG Party, and my personal favorite, the PNG Republican Party.
The formation of any new coalition government in PNG has always been a numbers game with the party returning the most electoral winners the party invited by the Governor General to form government, and its leader, by convention – the primary candidate for the post of Prime Minister.
Building a coalition government has always been a challenging task for the party that wins the most seats, but it is clear from the events of past 10 months, that this time round the task will be doubly difficult.
Due to a more even distribution of quality candidates among political parties, there is also the real possibility of two or more parties returning the same number of electoral winners – including a tie on the highest number of seats won. This would be unprecedented and would further test the resolve of parties and independents in creating a coalition to lead the country.
Despite this outcome, the formation of the next government will largely be influenced by the existing divisions caused by the constitutional crisis. Neither the ‘new’ or the ‘old’ factions will have the numbers to form a majority government, and thus it will be a race to create a coalition from the same pool of possible candidates.
There can only be one Prime Minister. More than one political party will need to compromise. But which ones?