Political Players in Papua New Guinea
Peter O’Neill: The prime minister was re-elected to his post by an overwhelming majority in the Parliament following the triumph of his PNC at a general election held in July. Crucially, the prime minister secured the backing of his predecessor, Michael Somare, who had challenged the legality of O’Neill’s controversial takeover of power in August 2011. The rapprochement between the two leaders points to more stable political conditions after a prolonged period of uncertainty and rival claims to the country’s leadership. However, like his predecessors, O’Neill will depend on the backing of several smaller parties and independent lawmakers for a majority, and the stability of his coalition is likely to weaken once the 18-month grace period, during which his government will enjoy protection from a confidence vote, expires.
People’s National Congress: O’Neill’s party was the big winner of the 2012 elections, at which the party claimed 27 seats in the 111-member legislature. The prime minister’s success at rescuing the PNC from near oblivion following the death of Bill Skate in 2006 will undoubtedly bolster his authority within the party, reducing the risk of internal fissures that might destabilize the governing coalition. Nevertheless, the PNC will need several coalition partners in order to maintain a parliamentary majority, and keeping its current allies on board may require surrendering some of its 13 posts in the 33-member Cabinet.
Triumph Heritage Empowerment Party: The T.H.E. Party is a new party founded by a dissident faction of Somare’s NAP ahead of the 2012 elections. Don Polye led the party to a second-place finish, winning 12 seats, while the NAP’s representation plummeted from 40 seats to just seven. The T.H.E. Party secured four Cabinet portfolios, including Treasury (which is held by Polye), Labor, and Higher Education. Polye’s ambitions were a key factor in his split from the NAP, and he can be expected to apply pressure on O’Neill for greater influence in the government once the regime’s 18-month grace period expires.
Papua New Guinea Party: A new party established ahead of the 2007 elections by former Prime Minister Mekere Morauta, the PNGP retained its eight seats in the Parliament at the 2012 election, making it the third-largest party after the PNC and the T.H.E. Party. PNGP leader Belden Namah played a key role in securing O’Neill’s election as prime minister back in August 2011, and served as deputy prime minister in O’Neill’s first Cabinet. However, the PNGP was not invited to join the current governing coalition. There is speculation that Somare demanded that Namah be sidelined as a condition for his cooperation with O’Neill, who thought Namah to be a little too ambitious for comfort and therefore was happy to oblige. Namah has been elected the leader of the opposition and will head a bloc of 17 lawmakers.
International Donors: Despite an improving economy, the support of international lending institutions and major bilateral aid donors (particularly Australia) remains vital to the country’s economic health. Although the fiscal restraint practiced by Somare’s government has drawn praise, the government’s failure to move more aggressively on structural reforms, particularly privatization, met with criticism, and the likelihood that the leader of the government formed after the 2012 elections will need to satisfy the demands of a multitude of coalition partners dims the prospects for success going forward.
Military: The military’s actions can either help or hinder prospects for sustaining peace in Bougainville and the reduction of secessionist sentiment in other outlying parts of the country, particularly the Southern Highlands. The PNGDF’s lack of discipline and control could hamper the efforts of any government to foster social harmony.
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