COMMENTARY by Dr Alphonse Gelu
This article would now turn its attention to one issue that would come to an end with the 9th Parliament. The issue is the level of political stability that was experienced from 2012 to 2017, that is within the term of the 9th Parliament. Political stability was realised in this period as a direct result of the ability of the prime minister, Peter O’Neill, to masterfully maintain the numbers in his coalition government. While there were issues that can be raised on the nature of governance in this period, the focus for this article is on how political parties in the current regime have been able to maintain political stability in the absence of any legal regime.
The passage of the Organic Law on the Integrity of Political Parties and Candidates (OLIPPAC) back in 2001 and 2003, was to instil a greater degree of political stability in parliament. The OLIPPAC exactly did that, and its impact was immediately felt after the 2002 election and in 2007. In 2010, the supreme court, however, ruled those provisions maintaining political stability to be unconstitutional. It then opened the floodgates for MPs to move at their own will.
As noted by the Registry of Political Parties after the 2012 elections, there were some movements by MPs in 2013 and 2014, but in 2015 and 2016, there were only a few movements of MPs. At the end of 2016 and beginning of 2017 again, there were some movements of MPs. The movements were, however, not a threat to the ruling political party, the People’s National Congress (PNC) and its coalition partners, as evident in the attempted motion of no confidence in 2016 against the government. The attempt was unsuccessful as PNC and its coalition partners maintained the numbers. The Registry noted that the MPs were becoming accustomed to political stability and this is a positive sign amongst the politicians.
What can Papua New Guinea learn from this experience of having one prime minister in the period from 2012 to 2017? Those growing up in the 70s and 80s would know the negative effects of the continuous change of governments. Economic growth and delivery of services fell drastically in this period due to political instability as a result of MPs moving parties at their will, and the push for motions of no confidence in almost every parliament sittings.
Papua New Guinea needs political stability, as we saw from 2012 to 2017 under Prime Minister Peter O’Neill and his political party PNC. Whichever political party and its coalitions that forms the government after the 2017 election must maintain the similar style of rule by PNC and its coalition partners. After the 2017 election would be the second period in which there would be no law to legislate for political stability, but something that has to be done by the actions and behaviours of the MPs themselves. The MPs are the ones who would either provide stability or create political instability within our parliament.
Political stability in this case is to allow a government to be in power and make decisions to benefit the people. There must be a spirit of trust and confidence in the government by the people, but it is the government that must prove to the people that it is concerned for their welfare, and must maintain itself to be a responsible and responsive government. The government must not drag itself into issues that would question and undermine its integrity. This would only affect the trust and confidence that the people would have of the government.
For us at the Registry of Political Parties, we will continue to work with the political parties to strengthen them. Our focus would be again on the structures of the parties, their membership, their policies, their constitutions, their relationships with the parliamentary wing and MPs, etc. However, it is important that the new government that comes in after the 2017 national election must ensure that the revised OLIPPAC is passed. This is one outstanding legislation that was overlooked by the O’Neill-Dion government. To decrease the number of political parties, the Registry would encourage the smaller parties to amalgamate, and to put in stringent measures to register new political parties.
With the absence of the law in instilling political stability, the Registry believes strongly that by institutionalising political parties in the country, this would be the right step towards making the political parties the main vehicles for political stability. Political parties can be the vehicle for political stability once they can make their membership, especially the MPs, to stand by the parties on certain principles, most notably the ideologies of the political parties, membership, and MPs are well versed with the party’s ideologies and inducted into the parties, MPs stand by resolutions of the parties both outside and inside parliament, continue to take part in the activities of the parties, MPs to respect and establish a cordial working relationship with the non-parliamentary executives and the provincial executives of their parties, etc.
Political parties must also establish their branches in the provinces as part of the agenda of strengthening political parties by the Registry. This would allow the political parties to remain visible throughout the country, and not only during the elections. The Registry would ensure in the revised organic law that the political parties must at least have operating offices in three provinces in each region. This would be a ground for deregistration of a political party if it does not comply with this requirement.
These are some important areas that the Registry of Political Parties would target that political parties must adhere closely to, in order to achieve the objective of strengthening them, which then would allow them to cultivate a culture of making their MPs stick with the political parties regardless of any circumstance that would affect the loyalty of the MPs towards their parties.
To conclude, the Registry of Political Parties would like to wish all the political parties and their candidates all the best in the coming elections. A special good luck to all the current sitting MPs. Election is an event that we all must take responsibility to ensure that it is fair and free to all.
We too must not forget the contributions made by people like Sir Michael, who we all bid farewell to and a rest well deserved for the Father of Papua New Guinea. His parting words of wisdom must be remembered and taken on board by those in the business of managing political parties, including the Registry of Political Parties.
Nurturing and maintaining political stability is important for all of us, and the political parties must now take the lead to ensure that there is stability in parliament, which would be beneficial to the people of Papua New Guinea.
COMMENTARY by Dr Alphonse Gelu