PNG politics: the dawn of a new era?
By Bal Kama
The almost seven years stability enjoyed by Papua New Guinea’s (PNG) government of Prime Minister Peter O’Neill is now under challenge as the country prepares for a gripping vote of no confidence in late May. Some have already shared key insights on the developments, including some historical background and technical aspects of the vote of no confidence process (see here, here and here). This analysis builds on these discussions to draw some general observations regarding the present political climate in PNG and possible future implications.
Impetuses to change the O’Neill government
Up until Tuesday of last week, Peter O’Neill was the dominant political player in PNG politics. He assumed the position of Prime Minister in August 2011 after ousting Sir Michael Somare in a dramatic power struggle that included resisting judges of the Supreme Court. The 2011 constitutional crisis cemented O’Neill’s place among his peers as an experienced combatant of the country’s hostile politics. Within the region and abroad, his elevation and Somare’s demise was seen as the ‘changing of the guard’ in PNG politics.
One of O’Neill’s key reforms following his ascension was the establishment of Investigative Task Force Sweep (ITFS) – an intra-governmental agency charged with combatting corruption. The successes of ITFS resulted in widespread public support for O’Neill. However, his standing quickly unravelled in 2014 when he became the subject of an investigation into the famous ‘Paraka-gate Affair’, a case of alleged high-level corruption. His staunch resistance and interference in the investigative processes – in particular, his dismantling of ITFS – raised serious questions about his commitment to the rule of law.
Nevertheless, O’Neill maintained commanding support in Parliament. In Australia, he was dubbed as “PNG’s champion of progress”, a call that would later appear misguided as O’Neill’s leadership led the country into …read more