BY FRANCIS HUALUPMOMI
FOR THE FIRST TIME in the history of Papua New Guinea electoral politics we have witnessed a controversial attempt to defer the election due to political and constitutional crises and deficiencies in electoral common rolls.
It seems that the constitutional deadlock between the legislative and judiciary may continue until the next government is sworn into office.
According to Electoral Commission it is expected that more than 4,000 candidates and more than 40 political parties will contest the election, competing for the top political posts and 109 seats.
The current coalition government seems confident it will retain the top posts given political marriage between O’Neill (PNC), Nama (PNGP), Polye (THE), Duma (URP) and other small factions.
Meanwhile the NA, led by veteran Grand Chief, Sir Michael Somare flanked by his historical party, PANGU and 12 disciples, maintain strong allegiance to return to the government benches.
There is nothing new to the political party manifestos. On the one hand, the current Onama government vows to continue reform and fight corruption. On the other hand, the NA faction claims to command the economy and says it will restore the Constitution.
In my view, the political manifestos are simply strategic orientations for public opinion given the nature of the political crisis – candidates and political parties will use public opinion on Somare’s regime performance and the current political impasse to lure votes.
The emergence of new political parties such as Ila Geno’s Constitutional Democratic Party, Gary Juffa’s Movement for Change Party and veteran environmental and women’s activist Dorothy Tekwe’s Greens Party are bound to make at least some difference.
The Greens may attract a positive outcome under the banner of indigenous land and environmental rights and women rights while Juffa’s party looks promising with his new strategic policy of maintaining law and order, good governance and service delivery.
On the other hand, the Constitutional Democratic Party may compete with existing parties fighting for constitutional reform. Parkop’s Social Democratic Party is well funded and may attract concrete attention.
There are implications for party politics. The current government may have some setbacks given the intent and motive of key players’ who are putting their hands-up for PM.
The major players in the game include O’Neill, Namah, Polye, Duma, Philemon and Parkop. Given PNG’s uniquely unpredictable and contradictory political culture, we may expect this rivalry may manufacture instability.
As far as the new parties are concerned, history has shown that it is quite a difficult task to command leadership. A party leader with extensive experience inside the Haus Tambaran can navigate through uncertain waters to command the state.
The new parties will have to find a niche within the ruling and experienced camps to secure political recognition. It would be more rational for new parties to form a coalition in a new government under the banner of change if their primary goal is reform and transform.
As far as political manifestos are concerned, almost all parties policies are focused on domestic or national development. Interestingly, few parties have stressed international relations and security.
PAP and THE have prioritised national security but not international relations. International investors may play an important role. Parties should attempt to balance national agendas with international relations – this is the 21st century and no country is an island.
My preliminary prediction on who will command PNG after the return of writs is, in priority order: Polye, O’Neill, Pruaitch and Parkop. The other potential leaders such as Duma and Namah may win should they get the strategic calculus right.
Two other actors we should not neglect are Charles Abel, who is playing behind an independent flag, and Gary Juffa, who may create a surprise. I may argue that money matters most in PNG politics. The stake is high and money will determine the political outcome.
As far as national security is concerned, intelligence reports predict that this election may become hostile as illegal weapons are rapidly building up especially in the highlands. Certain political and church leaders have also claimed similar sentiments.
Western analysts from Australia, US and New Zealand have predicted a worst case scenario. In my view, this analysis is misplaced since PNG’s election-related security issues are internally manageable, moreso than in other developing countries.
In recent times, some Australian and New Zealand political elites and scholars have proposed regional intervention. From what we have heard, both Canberra and Wellington have yet to develop a contingency plan, although some assistance in terms of logistic to technical capacity and capability have been dispatched to assist the Electoral Commission, Police and Defence.
International intervention should focus on capacity and logistical support, for instance, election monitoring groups, transport, computers, etc to beef up the relevant agencies to functionalise this major operation in an efficient and effective fashion.
PNG’s economy, with minor disruptions, is growing rapidly at an unprecedented rate of 8% fuelled by construction, exports and resources projects. According to 2012 CIA World Fact Book, PNG is ranked in the seven7 fastest growing economies.
For almost a decade, PNG has been one of the leading economies in the Pacific and has attracted international investors and major players. Its geo-economic and geo-strategic significance well place PNG to witness an economic turning point should it gets its strategic calculus right.
A robust macro-economic policies governed by prudent financial management and good governance should continue the drive towards modernisation under Vision 2050.
Some economists have predicted that unwise spending by government could blow out the budget in an unsustainable fashion. The minerals and LNG boom need to be rationally managed. The establishment of the sovereign wealth fund seems promising.
The role of the new government after the election should chiefly focus on maintaining the status quo. Priority areas should be on economic and political stability with sound macro-economic and financial management underpinned by good governance and maintaining and constructing key bilateral and multilateral strategic, economic and diplomatic relations.