Sunday 03 Jul 2022 | 08:46 | SYDNEY
Sunday 03 Jul 2022 | 08:46 | SYDNEY

What happened in PNG yesterday?


Jenny Hayward-Jones


27 January 2012 12:18

Yesterday's military mutiny in Papua New Guinea ended peacefully, with no civil unrest or loss of life. The mutiny, carried out by retired Colonel Yaura Sasa, was instigated by Sir Michael Somare's camp in an attempt to have Somare re-installed as Prime Minister.

The constitutional crisis that followed the Supreme Court's 12 December decision that Somare was the legal prime minister of PNG was effectively resolved by Prime Minister Peter O'Neill (pictured) obtaining the support of the key agencies of state. 

Legally, O'Neill's position is somewhat tenuous, but even if Michael Somare's legal case is sound, he did his country and himself a massive disservice by using the military to assert himself. The PNG military, despite being poorly resourced, has in recent years shown itself to be committed to professional service, admirably staying out of the constitutional crisis and declaring itself neutral. By using elements of the military to promote his case while Prime Minister O'Neill was attending to the response to a tragic natural disaster in the Southern Highlands, Somare risks losing what public support he had. He has demonstrated unashamedly that his personal ambition overrides his concern for the national interest. Even for Papua New Guineans who are used to politicians who put their own interests ahead of the nation's, this will likely be seen as a step too far.

His family's declaration that they will continue Somare's struggle to reclaim the prime ministership will also offend the population. PNG is a vibrant democracy with no tradition of dynastic leadership transfers in parliament. PNG's leadership may well have been dominated since 2002 by Michael Somare, who was also the founding prime minister, but the people will not sympathise with his family's desperation to stay in power.

For Peter O'Neill's Government (whose record since the constitutional crisis has not been blameless, with the controversial deportation of a New Zealand businessman and a diplomatic spat with Indonesia), the resolution of the mutiny is good news. It strengthens its legitimacy as a new generation government committed to stability.

One positive conclusion to draw from all the instability of the past couple of months is that PNG has not followed the path of many African states which have endured similar challenges. No civil unrest or even mass public protest followed either the constitutional crisis in December or the dramatic events of yesterday. No state of emergency was declared. Diplomatic missions have not had to evacuate staff. Business has proceeded largely as normal. The population has effectively looked on as politicians have engaged in battle for the spoils of office.

With elections due in June, there is, however, no certainty that the nation's politicians will turn their focus to the good of the nation rather than pursuing their personal ambitions.

Photo by Flickr user ComSec.