Tuesday 05 Jul 2022 | 07:01 | SYDNEY
Tuesday 05 Jul 2022 | 07:01 | SYDNEY

A Melanesian melodrama


Jenny Hayward-Jones


20 December 2010 11:08

Since writing just three weeks ago about political shenanigans in the Pacific, the intrigue in the region has only become more intense — and then there was the political earthquake that shook Papua New Guinea last week.

PNG Prime Minister Somare's decision to step aside while a Leadership Tribunal is established to investigate allegations that he failed to submit a number of annual financial statements to the Ombudsman Commission (as required by PNG's Leadership Code) was a surprise even to a PNG public long inured to political shocks. 

But like his colourful counterpart in Italy, Somare is a survivor. His decision last week to remove Deputy Prime Minister Don Polye — a potential challenger to the top job — and install Sam Abal, a more reliable, non-threatening supporter, was a clear indication that Somare expects to return to office soon.

If this wasn't enough, PNG's Supreme Court ruled last week that the Parliament's re-election in June this year of Sir Paulias Matane as Governor-General was invalid. Acting Prime Minister Sam Abal is resisting the Court's direction to reconvene Parliament before 20 January, leaving the country without a Governor-General. 

While Somare's decision to step aside reflects a respect for PNG's institutions, his railings against the media and Sam Abal's complaint that state institutions were being 'vindictive' in pursuing Somare do not inspire confidence in the PNG Government's commitment to good governance.

Meanwhile, in Vanuatu, the Deputy Speaker of Parliament has called an extra-ordinary session of Parliament on Christmas Eve to debate a motion of no-confidence in the new Prime Minister, only days after the Speaker, Maxime Carlot-Korman ruled out the same motion and then left the country.

Vanuatu has been down the road of successive no-confidence motions many times. At times they have been constructive — removing poor governments and installing better ones. Ultimately, however fascinating the ongoing political intrigue is to analysts and political junkies, the image of instability it projects is risky for a Vanuatu oft praised for its progressive reforms and economic success.

To complete the week of melodrama, Fiji assumed the chair of the Melanesian Spearhead Group after Vanuatu Prime Minister Sato Kilman reversed the policy of his predecessor and apologised to Fiji for refusing to hand over the chairmanship. The previous policy was no more than an attempt to hold Prime Minister Bainimarama accountable to the MSG's own establishment agreement. Solomon Islands stepped in to negotiate a reconciliation ceremony and the official handover of the chair. 

At the close of 2010, all four independent Melanesian nations are experiencing political crisis of one kind or another. Let's hope 2011 is calmer and more stable in the neighbourhood.