Can the dynasty factor help aspiring PNG female MPs?

Dulciana Somare with her father, Sir Michael Somare (photo supplied by Dulciana Somare)
Dulciana Somare with her late father, Sir Michael Somare (photo supplied by Dulciana Somare)

While political dynasties are not prevalent in Papua New Guinea (PNG), there are several notable political families. One example is the Chan family in New Ireland, with Sir Julius Chan and his son Byron Chan both politicians. Sir Julius, one of the country’s founding fathers, has been in parliament since the 1960s; while Byron was the member for Namatanai, an electorate of New Ireland, from 2002 to 2017. Another founding father, the late Sir Michael Somare, has two politically active children, Dulciana and Arthur. His son, Arthur, represented the Angoram electorate in East Sepik province from 1997 until 2012.

Dame Carol Kidu, the widow of Buri Kidu, PNG’s first national Chief Justice, may not strictly 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. She also writes in her autobiography, A remarkable journey, that prior to her husband’s untimely passing in 1994, he was contemplating entering the political arena himself.

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

The 2017 election also had a few women legacy candidates, that is, daughters of previous members of parliament, contesting seats. Anna Skate, daughter of former Prime Minister 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 endorsed Dulciana Somare, who contested for the East Sepik provincial seat and finished in fourth place. She amassed a total of 20,029 votes, that is, 5.7% of the total votes cast.

A decade 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; she finished fifth. Since the 2012 race, Jennifer has enlarged her social media presence, documenting her engagement on the ground and amplifying her voice on policy issues. This year, she intends to contest for the Morobe provincial seat.

How does being a legacy candidate help PNG women candidates? Initially, it helps that they are already well known, as their father’s reputation precedes them. It could also help with harnessing long-established political networks. However, there may not be many more benefits, in view of the many and complex variables in the quest for political office (campaigning, voter demands, hanmak, election administration, polling, security, political competition and so on).

For example, Elizabeth Simogun Bade is the daughter of the famous Sepik leader, Sir Pita Simogun. A former police officer, Sir Simogun was a member of the Legislative Council from 1951 to 1961, and a member of the House of Assembly from 1964 to 1968. In 1987, Elizabeth contested for the East Sepik provincial seat; and in 2002 she contested for 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 like the late Grand Chief Somare, it was an impossible undertaking. Being a legacy candidate is certainly not enough to guarantee success.

The Autonomous Region of Bougainville (ARB) has been creating its own political legacies. In the 2020 ARB elections, two families were successfully elected. A father–daughter team, Raymond Masono maintained his seat as the member for Atolls and his daughter Amanda Masono won the North Bougainville women’s seat. Theresa Kaetavara, who won the South Bougainville seat, was accompanied by her son, Emmanuel Carlos Kaetavara, who won the seat for Baba constituency.

Across the ocean, Fiame Naomi Mata’afa made Pacific history by becoming Samoa’s first female prime minister in 2021. A member of a political dynasty, both of her parents were political leaders. Her father, Mata’afa Faumuina Mulinu’u II, was Samoa’s first prime minister, from 1959 to 1970, and held the office again from 1973 to 1975. When he died in office in 1975, Fiame’s mother, La’ulu Fetauimalemau Mata’afa, took over his constituency of Lotofagu. She was 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 to 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, PNG, and particularly the people of Angoram District, will have the opportunity to facilitate what might be the beginning of a similar sweet political story. In contrast to Jennifer Baing-Waiko, who skipped the 2017 election to concentrate on her groundwork, enabling her to now contest a larger provincial electorate, Dulciana Somare decided to narrow her campaign field and focus on the smaller electorate of Angoram open. Having come fourth in the 2017 East Sepik provincial race, there is the possibility that she could win the Angoram seat in 2022.

Will her father’s legacy work in a similar fashion for the Angoram people as respect for the late Buri Kidu assisted Dame Carol’s first entry to parliament in 1997? The people of Angoram gave Somare’s son, Arthur, three terms in parliament – will they give his daughter a chance to continue her father’s legacy of nation building?

Correction, 11/3/2022: In response to comments below, the text has been corrected to show that Dulciana Somare got 20,029 not 121,178 votes in the 2017 national election.

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This 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.

Theresa Meki

Theresa Meki is a Pacific Research Fellow in the Department of Pacific Affairs, Coral Bell School of Asia Pacific Affairs, Australian National University. Her research focuses on women’s presence and vote share in Papua New Guinea’s election history.


  • Firstly, I think the there’s no short cut in elections for women in Papua New Guinea. I believe that the idea that legacy candidates have a chance of winning in an election doesn’t quite sound appealing because the ordinary voter is more concerned about over-coming the challenges poised to him or her in terms of a lack of basic service deliveries such as access to clean drinking water, access to reliable power supply, etc.

    Secondly, the dynamics of politics and how it is conducted in East Sepik Province is an issue too given the tendency for East Sepik to be a Patrilineal society in which the man own the land. Not the women. Hence, men would have more say in any election for public office compared to women.

    Thirdly, my views is that although there is advantages or disadvantages of being a legacy candidate, it still does not guarantee an absolute certainty that Dulciana Somare Brash would win in the 2022 National General Elections. I think my view is that if she doesn’t underestimate any candidate and that she does more awareness and focuses more on her strengths in focusing on basic service delivery for all the people rather than only just a few support bases where a vote came from. I think the chances of her winning the open seat would be enhanced a great deal more.

  • __”Culture, Politics and Democracy.”__

    I have been following your write-ups on women in politics/parliament and must honestly say you have been very silent on how cultural norms have bearings on our politics, democracy, governance and institutions.

    Cultural norms have negative and positive effects on politics. (Gorodnichenko and Roland, 2015)

    PNG is no exception, having a collective cultural setting. This has heavily constrained/impaired our efforts to bring about change into our politics, democracy, governance and institutions, more so its democratisation process.

    Papua New Guineans have a very diverse view of their politics, democracy, governance and institutions provoked by their diverse cultural settings.

    Papua New Guinea’s cultural norms will always play an important role in its politics, democracy, governance and institutions.

    You should also look at evolutionary psychology, especially competition amongst females, although recent studies have questioned this, primal instincts remain an important aspect of survival.

    • Hi Manu,

      You make an interesting point when you say:

      “Papua New Guinea’s cultural norms will always play an important role in its politics, democracy, governance and institutions.

      You should also look at evolutionary psychology, especially competition amongst females, although recent studies have questioned this, primal instincts remain an important aspect of survival.”

      The first point here seems true to me, but the crucially important fact is that cultural norms change: everywhere and all the time.

      And in many countries, norms with regards to women in politics have changed a lot in a short space of time. A crucial question in PNG is what might bring a similar change about? More women coming in via “dynasties”, TSMs? political activism from women at the grassroots? All of the above?

      Main point: to my mind it seems mistaken to talk of cultural norms as if they’re set in stone.

      • If cultural norms are not set in stone, how long does it take to undo a practice or thinking that is resisting Western Influence and Democracy in PNG?

        Do you have a fix that can immediately change a practice that is deeply embedded in PNG and Melanesia over time?

        Cultural Norms do change, but like many others, you assume that it should automatically change to suite (Western) democracy.

        That line of thinking is in itself defeating, because cultural norms take a long time to change/evolve, whether to agree or disagree with ideologies. I say ideologies because not only politics is resisted, but others as well.

        You also fail to see that I mentioned Collective Culture, that in itself is the biggest resistance of many Western Influence in our democracy and politics.

        Do you have a formula to speed the process of changing cultural norms? Modern theories as I have mentioned have concluded, democracy is hardest in societies with a collective culture like ours.

        For now, in my time, I would like to say that our cultural norms are set in stone. You find an intervention that can get more women into parliament.

        I am not against the idea of getting women into parliament, I am pointing out a fact that has been silent in the author’s writing.

        And to persons like you that assume you can wave the magic wand and automatically change our society.

        • Hi Emmanuel,

          For this piece of writing and perhaps my other two blogs on this site, I do not delve into cultural underpinnings and their influence on western/formal institutions. However, my PhD thesis (yet to be available on ANU open access) has two chapters that discuss how Melanesian cultures have influenced how democracy (voting, campaigning) is practiced on the ground as well as how it contends with PNG women’s effective political participation.

          My view on cultural norms in relation to it being a stumbling block for women, I agree with Zetlin’s critique in this article

          Basically, culture is in transition. It may not change to accommodate the progress we may want to see but it is not stagnant, nor should it be the primary reason to explain our contemporary challenges.

  • Good analysis of the family political dynasties. It is interesting how female daughters contested but have not been elected. I personally do not think the family name is what could give daughters the upper hand in wining an election. I believe it is more an issue of gender biais and cultural lineages. And in most circumstances males have a higher chance of been elected than the female. And the ideology that man is true leader.

    Societies attitude needs to chance in adapting the ideology that female are also leaders in society and they are great leaders.

  • Great analysis on the female candidates. Political dynasties in the regional scape is a bit different when it comes to the gender and the four regions in PNG. I think there is a greater chance for a male son of a politician getting elected compared to females in the Sepiks, Highlands and Southern region compared to a female candidate due to the cultural alignments in those areas. In the New Guinea Islands, its different. Political Dynasties are still at the infant stages of progress.

    • Minor correction paragraph 4.

      “PANGU endorsed Dulciana Somare, who contested for the East Sepik provincial seat and finished in fourth place. She amassed a total of 121,178 votes, that is, 5.7% of the total votes cast.”

      Dulicana she did not amass 122,178 votes, she polled a total of 20,029 – 10,673 primary votes and 9,356 preference votes.

      • I would love Dulciana Somare Brash to be nominated to stand for NCD Governor seat. Why?
        1 Sepik has a strong assimilation to accommodate the male lineage, Sepiks mental mode is that a male leads, females take the back stage. If she wins its is Divine intervention. Dynasty lineage is not guaranteed in the Sepik. Cultural norms and values leaning towards the ‘haus man/haus tambaran’ is ingrained. And overtime will mellow, not yet.
        2. NCD governor seat is strategic for Dulciana to get in Parliament. Most of her voters are educated and are not influenced by ‘mob rule’ or cultural gravitation. Most females will vote for her. She has to a larger degree her voters by marriage. PNG’S biggest decision making factors when it comes to voting is relational. She by marriage may make a difference on the female votes and male.
        3. The late GCSMS legacy is national. It is only fitting to stand for the NCD Governor seat to promote the dynasty.

        • Hi Ine’e,
          Thank you for reading and your comment. I understand what you mean with NCD having educated voters and whether that can help women candidates in general (regardless of legacy) – during the Pom NW by election, I think someone wrote a blog or maybe it was a commentary in the news (I’ll try find it) about Anna Bais’ performance. Anyway, this time around we’ll have four women (endorsed last week by People’s party) contesting for the 4 seats in NCD. Perhaps it can be an opportunity to test the idea (perhaps through survey) of educated voters voting for women/policy/not cultural gravitation.

          For Dulciana, if she contested for NCD Gov seat, in terms of the technicality of campaigning, it would be more or less starting from scratch even if she has in-laws and or with GCSMS legacy. At least in Sepik, she already came fourth for the provincial in 2017 so there is an existing support base for her.

          I note your point on ‘Sepik’s mental mode is a male leads’ but if highlanders can vote for Julie Soso for EHP provincial seat, then anything is possible or at least one can hope. Let’s see what happens.



          • Thank you Theresa for your reply.

            It will be interesting. Of every female candidate in PNG, Dulciana Somare Brash is highly qualified, greater experience in the political space given her up bringing as well as exposure.

            The end of the tunnel is to win and be on the floor of parliamemt. Like you say let’s see what happens. I am for a female parliamentarian and Dulciana it is.

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