SOMARE PROVES TO BE FORMIDABLE FORCE IN PNG

Editorial

The National

PORT MORESBY, Papua New Guinea (Aug. 8) - The likelihood of a National Alliance-led coalition taking charge of the National Government will be a novel experience for the nation, because an incumbent party has never before managed to retain office.

Most incumbent political parties have been decimated at the polls, reflecting the broader experience of sitting Members of Parliament. There has been some debate in the public arena about the extent of the NA victory and whether it has really won the mandate of the people for the next five-year term.

This is a somewhat unusual way of assessing the situation since NA is the only party to have won seats in virtually all provinces and the 27 seats is almost equivalent to the total 29 seats won among the next five strongest political parties. Four of these have decided to join the coalition anyway.

While only 43 sitting MPs managed to retain their seats with just over 60 percent losing theirs, the Somare-led coalition saw 17 of its cabinet ministers returned out of a total of 27.

Significantly, NA has done much better than it did in 2002. Much of the credit has to go to Sir Michael Somare as the only NA leader who campaigned nationwide. He has proved beyond doubt that he is arguably the most adept election campaigner in the country. Prior to the election, NA felt confident it would win at least 30 seats and fell short of this target by three seats, making this quite a formidable victory.

The 2007 national election also for the first time saw a drop in the number of candidates contesting. This had risen steadily from 879 in 1977 to a record 2,878 in the 2002 elections. This time there 2,518 candidates who contested for the 109 seats in Parliament, but this was still 147 more than the number in the 1997 election.

As a result of the NA victory, it appears likely that many of the new cabinet ministers who will be sworn in will be familiar figures from the past, especially since Somare has given priority to ruling coalition party members in formation of the next government. It has been said that the coalition parties themselves have won a commanding 59 seats, not counting new coalition members such as People’s Democratic Movement, Rural Development Party, People’s National Congress and others.

NA has had a much greater success than in the 2002 national elections with the victory of 14 sitting MPs in addition to victories by 13 newly elected NA MPs.The high casualty rate for MPs was also reflected among the governors of the 19 provinces and NCD.

Only seven governors retained their seats. The other 12, as well as the NCD position, went to newcomers. The most high profile governor to lose his seat has been former prime minister Paias Wingti, who was only defeated because of preferential voting.

This was also the apparent fate of Sir Rabbie Namaliu. And the highest profile newcomer among the governors is former Chief Justice Sir Arnold Amet, who appears set to become the next Madang governor.

Other former cabinet ministers who lost governorships include former deputy prime minister Chris Havieta in Gulf province, and New Ireland’s Ian Ling-Stuckey, who was defeated by former prime minister Sir Julius Chan.

Some readers may recall an editorial on July 31, titled ‘World Bank Hypocrisy on Display.’ The comments in that editorial regarding the visit to Australia, Cambodia and Vietnam by the new president of the World Bank, Robert B. Zoellick, have proved somewhat prescient.

This paper last Friday reported comments made by Zoellick during his visit to Sydney, where he categorized Papua New Guinea as "a fragile state" that was becoming difficult to deal with.

However, the rest of his comments were less specific and referred broadly to the nations of the South Pacific.

Despite what appears to be a lack of knowledge about recent developments in PNG, Zoellick made an appeal to Australia to accept seasonal workers from the Pacific Islands because, as he put it, "failing states are dangerous to their neighbors."

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