Papua New Guinea’s 2022 elections will officially get underway on 28 April. New Ireland has three electorates: the Provincial electorate and two Open electorates, Namatanai and Kavieng. Walter Schnaubelt, the Minister for Civil Aviation, represents Namatanai. Ian Ling-Stuckey, the Treasury Minister, is Member of Parliament for Kavieng. Both MPs are National Alliance party members. The Governor of New Ireland Province is Sir Julius Chan, one of PNG’s founding fathers, two-time prime minister, and the founding leader of the People’s Progress Party (PPP).
In this term of parliament, the two Open members from Kavieng and Namatanai have not been on good terms with Sir J. New Ireland is a test case in PNG politics on how spill-over effects of national-level political party intrigue and political differences between national MPs can frustrate coordination in the provinces. The three MPs from New Ireland have not got over their differences and have been unable to agree on a collective agenda for the province.
Self-styled the ‘last man standing’, this election will be the last for Sir Julius. In recent decades, Sir J has aligned the PPP brand to New Ireland, and to the cause of provincial autonomy. However, he has struggled to achieve his landmark vision for the province. Autonomy is not an electoral issue in the New Ireland province in this election. Moreover, there are compelling reasons why provincial autonomy will not work for New Ireland.
In New Ireland, politically appointed personnel override mandated officials in the local levels of government. Ward members, legitimate under PNG’s decentralised system of government, struggle to source resources, while so-called ‘ward coordinators’ or ‘liaison officers’ are now the de facto conduits for ‘development projects’.
These political appointees cater only to the immediate supporters of national-level politicians. In the process, duly mandated local government officials find themselves starved of resources and political support in performing their responsibilities. If New Ireland acquires greater autonomy, how effective will this autonomous status be if the local governments are not primed to acquire additional powers and functions?
According to the PPP New Ireland branch, the party has endorsed John Knox to contest Kavieng Open to challenge the incumbent Ian Ling-Stuckey, and Byron Chan (Sir Julius’s son) to recontest the Namatanai seat, the seat he held for 15 years prior to his defeat in 2017. The PPP also acknowledges that it will “work and cooperate with” other pro-PPP candidates in the two Open electorates. This strategy is an attempt to get pro-PPP candidates to capture and share the PPP base vote and deny preference distributions to the two sitting MPs for Kavieng and Namatanai. This may be an ingenious use of the limited preferential voting system.
In addition to Byron Chan, another contestant, John Merebo, a self-made businessman, will also nominate to contest the Namatanai seat as a pro-PPP candidate. Merebo is from Sentral Niu Ailan LLG (local-level government), the most populous LLG in Namatanai. There are long-standing grievances in the Sentral Niu Ailan LLG, for instance, the sealing of the roads into the Lelet plateau. The road infrastructure in Lelet, long considered the ‘food basket’ of the New Ireland province, has deteriorated. Merebo is touted as the candidate most likely to highlight this in his campaign.
The Kavieng seat will also be competitive. Former trade unionist John Paska is another scheduled to contest that seat. The current MP, Ian Ling-Stuckey, has been accused by his opponents of distributing handouts to his supporters, disguised as small to medium enterprise development funds. His opponents will challenge the perceived handout mentality that they say has been nurtured in the district to the detriment of long-term development policies.
In the New Ireland Provincial seat, there are no serious threats to the dominance of Sir J. He will benefit from the alignment of pro-PPP candidates in the Kavieng Open and Namatanai Open.
Given the difficulties outlined above standing in the way of New Ireland’s provincial autonomy, at best the autonomy agenda will remain a strategic ploy for the province to leverage against the national government on mining revenues. The Governor should focus on mentoring credible successors to his leadership, as the late Grand Chief Sir Michael Somare did in the East Sepik province with the transition to Allan Bird.
This research was undertaken with the support of the ANU-UPNG Partnership, an initiative of the PNG-Australia Partnership, funded by the Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade. The views are those of the author only.
The study of PNG politics needs more sharp and committed debate. I welcome therefore Patrick’s reply. Patrick misses however the issue at stake, PNG politics is indeed centred on personalities, but these personalities have often definite positions with respect to natural resources policies. That is not only the case with father and son Chan, but also Kua, Namah, Abel are important examples in this respect. Abel especially needs more attention. There is a temptation to use the common phrases about patron client relationships etc. and overlook the crucial issues of PNG politics. Natural resources policy and the financial situation of the country were core issues when Marape’s succeeded O’Neill and this was the case as well during the failed vote of no confidence led by Pruaitch. It may not be manifest but it will certainly be latent in the coming elections. My suggestion is not that you write more, but that you write about different matters as that gives a deeper understanding of PNG politics.
You appear for example to be very well informed with respect to Chan’s position on regional autonomy. Apologise of course for factual errors.
You state: “PNG politics is indeed centred on personalities, but these personalities have often definite positions with respect to natural resources policies.”
Response: Sir Julius Chan’s position on natural resource policies was specifically referenced for the purposes of the autonomy agenda. It was the subject of the original commentary, correcting the misconception that Nautilus was the basis for New Ireland’s bid for autonomy, when in fact it is a continuing leveraging rhetoric (together with natural resource law reforms). What can you make for Abel’s position on natural resources? Maybe you can look up the national development blueprint he oversaw (the writing of) when he was Minister for Planning and Monitoring. During his time in the aforementioned department, he oversaw the writing of the STaRs, a development blueprint that envisages economic diversification and green growth (I don’t know if that constitutes what you called “definite positions” on “natural resource policies”).
You state: “There is a temptation to use the common phrases about patron client relationships etc. and overlook the crucial issues of PNG politics”.
Response: Patron-client relationship is useful in explaining contemporary governance in Melanesia. The same features of patron-client relationships are seen in the New Ireland province. Terence Wood makes informative comparative study of PNG and the Solomon Islands to demonstrate the correlation between the localized support that MPs get from supporters and the detrimental effects this has on governing in the national interest ( read here: The clientelism trap in Solomon Islands and Papua New Guinea, and its impact on aid policy – Wood – 2018 – Asia & the Pacific Policy Studies – Wiley Online Library). Governance is one of the “crucial issues of PNG politics” and patron-client relationship is one of many useful frameworks in understanding the governance issue in PNG.
You state: “Natural resources policy and the financial situation of the country were core issues when Marape’s succeeded O’Neill and this was the case as well during the failed vote of no confidence led by Pruaitch”.
Response: Indeed, nobody is denying that. But that was not the subject of the original commentary. Those issues have been covered in greater detail elsewhere by other commentators and more credible observers of PNG politics. The whole Take Back PNG slogan and the associated rhetoric of “Rich Black Christian nation” came out of that period.
A last comment on my part:
Whether there are connections between local and national politics is a researchable question. It is according to me likely. For example iPNC parliamentarians may leave PNC and join Pangu Party. That has implications for the camp/coalition they will join after the election. Whether they follow O’Neill or Marape has consequences for supporting particular natural resource policies
I want to raise attention for matters that are overlooked in the study of PNG politics, That is evident when the policy positions of Charles Abel are not known. Abel argues consistently against taking equity/shareholding in natural resource companies.
In Paul Flanagan and Luke Fletcher’s Double or Nothing: the broken economic promises of LNG/PNG you can read on p.32:”There are some in PNG who are aware that mistakes have been made. Once again, (the then vD) current Treasurer Charles Abel made these comments in 2017:We need to develop a mineral and petroleum regime where we take a smaller equity for free and a higher royalty rate, introduce domestic market obligation and local con-tent. We need to understand why a large current account surplus (from mineral and petroleum exports) still leaves us with a foreign exchange shortage.” That is a policy agenda.
A stress on patron client relations overlooks a crucial aspect of PNG politics. Patron client relations suggest a stable structure It is clear from parliamentary practice that followers in PNG are quite fickle. When Don Polye left the government, his party did not follow him.The PNC disintegrated under O’Neill when Marape succeeded.. Pruaitch’s party split beween his followers and government supporters when he joined the call for a vote of no confidence, The ability to keep together a fractious lot of people is a necessary skill in PNG politics. O’Neill was good at it but may have found his master in Marape. It is not a topic for study in PNG politics
I regret that Patrick did not notice my sympathy with his contributions.
Thank you Prof. Van Donge for taking time to comment on this blog piece. This is also my last post on the matter.
The original blog is about New Ireland politics, the main character here being Sir Julius Chan. Because you assumed that the Solwara One project in 2013 instigated the autonomy agenda for New Ireland, the point of clarification was made. Provincial autonomy is one of several policy levers used by Sir Julius Chan in pursuit of his natural resource policy positions.
Now to aspects of your rebuttal. Sir Julius’ positions on natural resource policies are definite, and he has advocated that consistently. When he was Member for Namatanai and Prime Minister from 1994 to 1997, he had a hand in the negotiations that resulted in the 1995 Lihir MOA (MOA Re. Lihir Project between State and New Ireland Provincial Government MOA Re. Lihir Project between State and LMALA). He pursued the renegotiation of this MOA since coming back into politics in 2007. As Party Leader of PPP, his party has been part of coalition governments since 2007. PPP has consistently lobbied during government formation for the Mining Ministry. Three consecutive terms of Parliament the Mining Ministry has been held by a PPP MP. The autonomy agenda he pursues is linked to mining in his province. His party is going into the 2022 elections with the agenda of reforming the resources laws of PNG. These are definite policy positions and a track record of advocacy to show for these positions on natural resources.
A random statement from Charles Abel can hardly qualify as definite positions on natural resource policy. You said it yourself: “the policy positions of Charles Abel are not known”. Maybe this is because he may not have any to begin with. Therein also lies the problem with PNG politics: politicians say many good things that people will no doubt want to hear. But with no meaningful track record of voting on legislation and using their positions as legislators to consistently advocate a policy, identifying their actual positions is unrealistic.
Natural resource policies are what you perceive as the key driver of PNG politics (for mine, it is one of many drivers and factors). If that is your premise in studying PNG politics, it interests me that you came back full circle to conceding that personality politics (and might I add, the perks and privileges of remaining with O’Neil) was the likely explanation for O’Neil commanding the loyalty of Polye’s party members during the split (Your own quote: “The ability to keep together a fractious lot of people is a necessary skill in PNG politics”). If a commonly shared position on natural resources was the factor that allowed Peter O’Neil to command the loyalty of other MPs that would have made sense, by your line of reasoning.
Finally, patron client relations and personality politics are two specific themes to explaining the New Ireland situation. If positions on natural resource policies was the basis for the behavior of voters and MPs alike in the New Ireland province I would have noticed it and written about it in the original blog post.
The recent political analysis by PNG scholars are a very welcome development. I do think however that different questions can be asked that come closer to the essence of PNG politics. Party affiliation as well as electoral behaviour have proven to be whimsical. The crux of PNG politics is coalition formation that takes place after the elections. At first sight such coalitions seem to be made merely on the basis of personal opportunism, but there are important policy issues involved. The management of natural resources and the financial position of PNG.
In that respect Julius and Byron Chan are quite significant. Julius Chan pleaded for autonomy of Eastern Britain when the Nautilus deep sea project near the island was on the cards. This interest has disappeared since the demise of Nautilus. Julius Chan declared recently that he not changed his mind on the Bougainville crisis, He is still behind the Sandline affair to regain control over the Panguna mine. He appears to move easily from a defence of decentralisation to backing a move to regain central control by force. Byron Chan proposed a new mining act when he was minister of mines that assumed total control of PNG and trea incoming companies as guests without rights. That is a position close to Kua’s, the present minister of mines. Peter O’Neill is a crucial actor in possible coalition building. The minister for the treasury, Ling Stuckey has been particularly critical of O’Neill. He blamed the difficult financial position of PNG for example on a sovereign loan contracted by the O’Neill/ Able government. O’Neill has in turn been harshly critical of Ling Stuckey. Watching PNG politics could benefit from more attention to issues and policies involved. Words have consequences and one needs to listen to what politicians say.
You state: “Party affiliation as well as electoral behaviour have proven to be whimsical. The crux of PNG politics is coalition formation that takes place after the elections”.
Response: A long established fact about PNG politics, especially party politics, is that parties are built around the personality of the party leader. That is the point I made about the longevity of Sir Julius Chan in politics, his role as the founder of the People’s Progress Party, and how since he came back into politics in 2007, successfully associated the PPP brand with his leadership in New Ireland province specifically. The point in the commentary is that New Ireland province, in the mind of its Governor is a stronghold of PPP. It explains why two non-PPP MPs (National Alliance) in the Open Electorates seem to have a hard time aligning their visions to that of the Governor Sir Julius Chan (who is PPP). The divisions are not ideological as you would expect from established democracies, but partly associated with personalities of the MPs and the patron-clientalist phenomenon that everybody is researching about in Melanesian political systems. The commentary focuses less on the national-level party coalition formations and party identity at the national level, but the differences of personalities in the province (in this case the New Ireland province). In New Ireland province, it is a very divisive. If you voted for the two NA MPs in the last election, your current political affiliation is with those two MPs. The same with the Governor.
You state: “……seem to be made merely on the basis of personal opportunism, but there are important policy issues involved. The management of natural resources and the financial position of PNG”.
Response: Of course. Three consecutive terms of Parliament (2007-2012; 2012-2017; 2017-2022), a PPP members has held the Mining fort polio. The PPP is going into the 2022 General Elections with the agenda of changing the resource laws of this country (see here: PPP pushes for changes in resources laws – Post Courier). It says a lot about the influence and personality of the party leader. The party leader is the Governor of a province where two mining projects are located and his long history of dealings/negotiations with the national government in securing the benefits of such projects frame his advocacy role, now reflected in his party’s campaign platform. Again, the personality and influence of the party leader!
You state: “Julius Chan pleaded for autonomy of Eastern Britain”
Response: Correction. Sir Julius Chan has been Governor of New Ireland, since 2007) not East New Britain.
You state: “Julius Chan pleaded for autonomy of Eastern Britain when the Nautilus deep sea project near the island was on the cards. This interest has disappeared since the demise of Nautilus”.
Response: Correction. Nautilus only began making news headlines with the Solwara One project around the 2011-2012 period. The idea of provincial autonomy predated the Solwara One (Nautilus) project. When Sir Julius Chan came back into politics in 2007, he oversaw the creation of what is known as the Malagan Declaration. That has been the blueprint he has been touting as the basis for the province’s bid for autonomy (read here: New Ireland is already autonomous: Chan | Loop PNG). The point I made in the original commentary was that autonomy (together with reforms to the natural resource laws) is used as a leverage in Sir Julius Chan’s dealings with the national government over mining benefits, in the case of Lihir for example (read here: New Ireland push for autonomy within PNG over Lihir youth | RNZ News). It is a useful leveraging rhetoric if you are pushing for greater control of the benefits from projects within your provincial boundaries, and that continues. Nautilus did not change that.
You state: “That is a position close to Kua’s, the present minister of mines”.
Response: Correction. Hon. Kerenga Kua is Minister for Petroleum
You state: “Watching PNG politics could benefit from more attention to issues and policies involved. Words have consequences and one needs to listen to what politicians say”
Response: All of responses I have given above are issues generated from my original commentary and understanding of New Ireland politics not national-level politics. Given the word limitations of Devpolicy blog commentaries we cannot always discuss everything in one short blog piece. The other issues you raised will be dealt with at a later time.
Cronyism and patron-clientism seemed to be definitional features of Niu Ailan politics.