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Can their political legacy get PNG women elected?

Dulciana Somare with her late father Sir Michael Somare (Dulciana Somare)
Dulciana Somare with her father, the late Grand Chief Sir Michael Somare. Dulciana is contesting the seat of Angoram in this year's national election (Dulciana Somare)

| DevPolicy Blog

CANBERRA - While political dynasties are not prevalent in Papua New Guinea, there are several notable political families.

Sir Julius Chan, one of the country’s founding fathers, has been in parliament since 1968 – 54 years. His son Byron was the member for Namatanai, a New Ireland electorate, from 2002 to 2017.

Another founding father, the late Sir Michael Somare, has two politically active children: Dulciana and Arthur. Arthur represented the Angoram electorate in East Sepik province from 1997 to 2012.

Dame Carol Kidu, the widow of Buri Kidu, PNG’s first national Chief Justice, may not come from a political dynasty but she has said that her late husband’s legacy helped her enter the political arena, gaining her ‘sympathy votes’ in her first election in 1997.

Dame Carol writes in her autobiography, ‘A Remarkable Journey’, that prior to her husband’s untimely passing in 1994, he was contemplating entering politics himself.

The 2017 national election saw several husband-and-wife political teams in action: National Capital District Governor Powes Parkop and Oro provincial candidate and Jean Eparo Parkop; and former Ijivitari member David Arore who also contested the Oro provincial seat and his wife, Joy Travertz Arore, who contested the Ijivitari open.

The 2017 election also had a few woman legacy candidates, that is, daughters of previous members of parliament.

Anna Skate, daughter of former prime minister the late Sir Bill Skate (1997–1999), was the lone female candidate for the Port Moresby South electorate. Endorsed by the People’s Progress Party, she finished third with 11.3% of the first preference vote.

PANGU Pati endorsed Dulciana Somare for the East Sepik provincial seat and she finished in fourth place with 20,029 votes, 5.7% of the votes cast.

Ten years ago, Jennifer Baing-Waiko, daughter of former member for Markham, Andrew Baing, and daughter-in-law of Dr John Waiko, former member for Sohe open, stood for the Markham open seat and finished fifth.

Since this 2012 race, Jennifer has enlarged her social media presence, strengthened her engagement on the ground and amplifyied her voice on policy issues. This year, she intends to contest the Morobe provincial seat.

How does being a legacy candidate assist PNG women candidates?

Initially it helps that they are already well known, as their father’s reputation has preceded them.

The legacy could also help in harnessing long-established political networks.

However there may not be many more benefits. There are many complex variables in the quest for political office – including campaigning, meeting voter demands and raising awareness (hanmak), election administration, polling, security and dealing with political competition.

Elizabeth Simogun Bade is the daughter of a famous Sepik leader, Sir Pita Simogun, a former police officer who was a member of the Legislative Council from 1951-61 and of the House of Assembly from 1964-68.

In 1987, Elizabeth contested the East Sepik provincial seat and then in 2002 the Kairuku-Hiri seat in Central Province. She was unsuccessful both times.

In 2007, she ran a second time for the East Sepik provincial seat, but in a contest with political giants including the late Grand Chief Michael Somare, it was an impossible undertaking.

Being a legacy candidate is certainly not enough to guarantee success.

The Autonomous Region of Bougainville has created its own political legacies. In the 2020 Bougainville elections, two families were successful.

A father–daughter team, Raymond and Amanda Masono, were elected. Raymond retained his seat as the member for Atolls and Amanda won the North Bougainville women’s seat.

And Theresa Kaetavara won the South Bougainville seat while her son, Emmanuel Carlos Kaetavara, won the Baba constituency.

Last year, across the ocean, Fiame Naomi Mata’afa made Pacific history by becoming Samoa’s first female prime minister.

Fiame was part of a dynasty, both of her parents being political leaders. Her father, Mata’afa Faumuina Mulinu’u II, was Samoa’s first prime minister, from 1959-70 and again from 1973-75.

When Mata’afa died in office in 1975, Fiame’s mother, La’ulu Fetauimalemau Mata’afa, took over his constituency of Lotofagu as only the second woman to be elected to Samoa’s parliament.

While PNG’s and Samoa’s political organisation and societal structures are vastly different from each other, and Fiame’s political legacy is just one component of her political identity, her journey does make for sweet political history.

Come April 2022, Papua New Guinea, and particularly the people of Angoram District, will have the opportunity to facilitate what might be the beginning of a similar sweet story.

In contrast to Jennifer Baing-Waiko, who skipped the 2017 election to concentrate on preparing to contest a larger provincial electorate, Dulciana Somare decided to focus on the smaller electorate of Angoram open.

Having come fourth in the 2017 East Sepik provincial race, there is the possibility she could win in Angoram this year.

Will her father’s legacy work in a similar way as respect for Buri Kidu assisted Dame Carol’s entry to parliament in 1997?

The people of Angoram gave Somare’s son, Arthur, three terms in parliament – will they give Dulciana a chance to continue her father’s legacy of nation building?

Meki - theresa_mekiTheresa Meki (pictured) is a Pacific Research Fellow in the Department of Pacific Affairs, Coral Bell School of Asia Pacific Affairs at the Australian National University. Her research focuses on women’s presence and vote share in Papua New Guinea’s election history. Her research was supported by the Pacific Research Program, with funding from the Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade. The views are those of the author only


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