Pacific predictions: 2015

Written by Tess Newton Cain

Leaders at the Pacific Islands Forum in Majuro, Marshall Islands, 2014. Photo - Pacific Islands Forum Secretariat.Further to my predictions for 2012, 2013 and 2014, here are my thoughts about what will be noteworthy in and for the Pacific island region during 2015. For those who would like a recap of what stood out for me last year, you can see my two-part round-up here and here.

Politics

For some countries and territories in the region, the political outlook is very much coloured by the events of last year. The new parliaments of Solomon Islands and Tonga are yet to meet and in New Caledonia the recent collapse of the congressional government has yet to be resolved.

Elsewhere, there will be focus on the maintenance of political stability. As I discussed recently with the prime minister of Vanuatu, this is an issue of significant concern for his government. Further north, in Papua New Guinea, the grace period during which the government of Peter O’Neill has been protected from motions of no confidence will come to an end during 2015. Whether this leaves him vulnerable to losing power before the general elections scheduled for 2016 is open to question although it is not likely as this is not a common occurrence in PNG. Of (possibly) more significance is O’Neill having been referred to a Leadership Commission, which is scheduled to convene in the early part of the year. A question mark hangs over whether or not this action will proceed as we await a determination by the National Court further to an application to stay the proceedings on constitutional grounds.

In Fiji, the establishment of democracy is still very much a work in progress, with the elections of last September constituting a first step rather than an endpoint. We can expect to see more wrangling around parliamentary processes and media freedom. Of particular interest will be the work of the Parliamentary Accounts Committee under the chairmanship of Biman Prasad. Assuming this committee is able to execute its mandate it will, among other things, scrutinise eight years’ worth of reports from the Auditor-General covering the period of military rule.

This year will be an important one for Bougainville with presidential and Autonomous Bougainville Government elections scheduled. All of this activity will form part of the preparation for a referendum on independence from PNG, which is slated to take place before 2020. Perhaps as a sign of things to come, Bougainville recently changed its time zone to put it an hour ahead of mainland PNG and in line with Solomon Islands.

Regionalism & sub-regionalism

At the regional level, the first milestone may be the summit proposed by the foreign ministers of Australia and Fiji to review regional architecture. If it goes ahead in the first quarter as timetabled, it has the potential to colour a number of other key regional activities including the rollout of the Framework for Pacific Regionalism [pdf] (the successor to the Pacific Plan). However, details of who will be there and what is on the agenda of this meeting remain unclear.

The Pacific Islands Forum Leaders’ meeting will be held in Port Moresby, providing another opportunity for Papua New Guinea to continue its assertion of regional leadership. A significant question mark hangs over whether PM Bainimarama of Fiji will attend.

Meanwhile, what does 2015 hold for the Pacific Islands Development Forum? Since its inception we have seen it develop from a potential organisation to an organisation with potential but what more is there to come? As things currently stand, there is no Secretary-General in place given the departure of Feleti Teo. The appointment of his successor will likely be a key indicator of what the future of this body is likely to be. It is very much the brainchild of the Fiji leadership but has yet to gain traction in the region as a whole.

This year will be another significant one for the Melanesian Spearhead Group. The Leaders’ summit will be held in Honiara and mark the transfer of chairing responsibilities from the FLNKS to the government of Solomon Islands. It is to be hoped that the longstanding dispute between Solomon Islands and Fiji regarding mutual landing rights for their airlines will have been resolved by then. Further to a historic meeting late last year held in Port Vila, we can expect the newly constituted United Liberation Movement for West Papua to submit a renewed application for West Papuan membership, as requested by leaders at a special summit convened in Port Moresby during 2014. Given the differing viewpoints on this issue among the membership, this has the potential to be a divisive issue.

These issues (and no doubt many more) will be keeping those of us who spend our time thinking about the Pacific interested and busy over the coming months.

Tess Newton Cain (@CainTess) is a Research Associate at the Development Policy Centre.

Tess Newton Cain

Dr Tess Newton Cain is the principal of TNC Pacific Consulting and is a Visiting Fellow to the Development Policy Centre. She is a citizen of Vanuatu where she lived for almost 20 years and is now based in Brisbane. Tess is a specialist in Pacific regionalism and sub-regionalism, with a particular interest in the Melanesian Spearhead Group. She is a regular contributor to the Devpolicy blog, where she often co-writes with Matthew Dornan. She is the co-ordinator of the 'Pacific Conversations' series in which she discusses politics and policy with established and emerging leaders from the Pacific island region.

7 Comments

  • My research interest is the relationship between media, politics, social conflict and development in the Pacific. The discussion about political stability likely to be the stand-out issue in 2015 caught my attention.

    Instability and violent conflict are rightly seen by some as a major threat towards the achievement of millenium development goals, and a drawback for Australia’s $1billion regional aid program, especially in Melanesia.

    Fiji is curbing the media in the name of social stability, with other island nations showing a keen interest in how this pans out, before following suit. Depending on how things unfold, there could be short and long term repercussions for good governance and development.

    Some believe in, ‘development first, media freedom later’, but the link is fuzzy at best, and may not be sound doctrine for the region.

    • Hi Shailendra

      The point that you raise is an important and interesting one. Looking around the region we can see numerous instances of ‘stability’ being prioritised (both in terms of rhetoric and practice) and one of the ways this plays out is in relations between the state and the media – both mainstream media and online spaces such as blogs and Facebook groups.

      My feeling is that development is a process not a product so all countries are always developing and the roles played by the media are a part of that journey.

      Thanks for adding your thinking to this discussion

  • Excellent review of what’s ahead; 2015 begins the first year in many when all 26 or so Pacific Islands states, territories and areas with self government have elected leadership.
    One hopes this tremendous accomplishment will magnify the potential achievements of regional bodies, but also local community-economic decision making.

    • Hi Paul

      You make a good point and I think we will see more this year that will illustrate that in terms of establishing, embedding and maintaining democratic culture in the states of the Pacific, elections are necessary but far from sufficient

  • Malo Tess

    Thank you again for your insightful comments,

    My predictions are more economic in focus and include PACER negotiations meandering along, the battles and tensions to protect local producers and companies vs policies to reduce trade and business barriers – the ADB/IMF imperatives, the consequences of TPP for the nations IN the region, the massive investment drives into the region by the Asean countries (high tech outputs, low rates of local labour), lack of leadership on regional transport and freight issues, declining national pacific populations (+brain drain). I think these will set the parameters for growth in the region, with the political issues you mention, for years to come…

    Manuia le tausaga fou

    • Malo Fuimaono

      I deliberately left the economic predictions to the economists!! I think all of the points you raise are important and I would particularly like to know more about the impact of the TPP in the region as this is something I have not seen examined meaningfully up to now.

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