Skelim tok

January 28, 2012 at 5:53 am (Commentary, Michael Somare, Papua New Guinea, Peter O'Neill)

I wonder if the present political impasse in PNG could be better resolved by the main players recognizing the determinants of governmental activity in the country.

PNG politics cannot be understood purely in ideological, party, constitutional or executive terms. The main imperatives of political life are associated with the interplay of personalities in a largely patron-client environment.

The protagonists, Somare and O’Neill are both products of their own society. To progress politically, they both know that they must play the game of the big man, strong man, and provider to colleagues and the masses, or at least appear to do so. In this patron-client milieu, one builds up prestige and cultural capital. These are essential bargaining assets that can be used or wasted.

Both men have these political assets to some degree, and I would suggest that Somare until recently was more than blessed in this regard. His power lies in the prestige he has acquired as the father of the nation, and the years he has served in Parliament, and on the world stage.

But what is he doing? As far as can be worked out from afar, he’s busy throwing away his chances by trying to emerge from the present deadlock by lamely calling out the army to support him.

At Sir Michael’s age and state of health, he should bring into play his essential strengths, which are his personal charm and his negotiation skills, and deal directly face-to-face with Peter O’Neill. Both men have legitimate constitutional and parliamentary questions that need to be resolved, and I believe, can be resolved. Politically, it’s not in O’Neill’s interests to just disregard Somare, for the old man still has a large following in the country, and his Sepik followers will never forget it if he is publicly humiliated.

Somare must be allowed to settle his differences with O’Neill with his dignity intact. As a first move his, parliamentary seat should be restored to him, and there must be an end to public name calling by both men.

I don’t know Peter O’Neill personally, but I do know Michael Somare and I have a lot of faith in his ability to negotiate, and I’m sure both men must realize that steadfastness to their own opinions irrespective of the consequences is not the Melanesian way.


  1. Alpal said,

    I cant help but feel Somare is going down the “Magabe” road – pitty help PNG.

  2. Peter Johnson said,

    The greatest threat I perceivce to PNG’s stability would come, not from interplay between Sir Michael and Mr. O’Neill, but from an obsessive and over-ambitious third party. The wrong intervention would have the potential to do immense damage both here and abroad.
    Sir Julius Chan tried to cling to power with resulting years of turmoil and loss of thousands of lives in Bougainville.
    In Wewak it is amazing how calm is life!

  3. David Wall said,

    An interesting reflection on personality politics was evident in a reported rumour today:

    “PNG Party to remove Somare’s face from K50 notes?

    “Posted: 28 Jan 2012 08:02 PM PST

    Heard from Lae that PNG Party had a very interesting breakfast this morning.
    Rumour is that they’ve already instructed the Central Bank to remove Somare’s face from the next batch of K50 notes.”

    Source: Malum Nalu

  4. Jiminy Cricket said,

    This is none of my or our business, but I believe that this constitutional crisis should be resolved by the high court (if it has not already be resolved). It is similar in essence to our own in November 1975. The court can decide one way or the other. It does not matter much in the long run. The people of PNG will have to make their own mind at the following election. Nevertheless, it is good to see democracy in action in PNG. ‘It’ deserves to win.

    • Alpal said,

      I must agree with Jiminy C above, But Alas I Dont have the faith in the courts either. I suspect this is the early stages of “a coming of age” process for PNG & there may be a long painful road ahead.
      Take a look at Britain it what?, some 600 years to get from Runnymede to the end of the Stewarts.

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