Mataungan Association

In May 1969 a group of Tolai, the local people of the Gazelle Peninsula in East New Britain, formed the Mataungan Association (MAS) to oppose the setting up by the Administration of a multi-racial Gazelle Peninsula Local Government Council. Early members included Oscar Tammur, a Tolai member of the House of Assembly, and John Kaputin. The MAS boycotted the Council elections and organized demonstrations and mass meetings. In December 1969 violence broke out and some MAS members who physically assaulted supporters of the Council were jailed.

By 1970 the MAS was opposed to other Administration policies, particularly land policies. The Administration proposed to lease land to the local people for cocoa and copra production. The MAS argued that the land belonged to the Tolai, not the colonial Administration. In July 1970 the Administrator was authorized to use the army against the MAS if further disturbances occurred. The army was not used and the order was revoked in May 1971. In 1970 Tammur was jailed for non-payment of tax to the Council. In 1971 Kaputin established the New Guinea Development Corporation which became the business arm of the MAS and the MAS was claiming for Tolai cocoa growers ownership of cocoa fermentaries which the Administration said were owned by the Council. The dispute led to further demonstrations and violent clashes with police.

Also in 1971 the MAS called for self-government for East New Britain and announced that it would set up a local council of its own. After the 1972 House of Assembly elections the three successful MAS candidates supported the National Coalition led by Michael Somare. In 1972 the national government introduced legislation to abolish the Gazelle Local Council, to give a special form of “local self-government” to the Gazelle Peninsula and to assist the New Guinea Development Corporation through the provision of Development Bank loans. In 1973 legislation was adopted under which three organizations, including the MAS, were given power to collect taxes from their supporters. This concession by the national government was regarded by the MAS as a victory and opposition to the Administration subsided. In 1973 the MAS had an estimated 15,000 registered supporters. The business arm was profitable. In 1977, in the first national elections after Independence, the MAS returned three candidates to national parliament.

Melanesian Alliance

The Melanesian Alliance (MA) was formed in February 1980 by a Bougainvillian, John Momis, and John Kapitun from East New Britain, with the support of four other members of the national parliament. Bernard Narakobi, from Wewak, has been a long-time prominent member. In its 1982 election manifesto the MA advocated redistribution of wealth, social justice and devolution of power to the provinces. Until the Bougainville crisis of 1989, the MA was most successful in the North Solomons – Momis’ own province. MA members of the national parliament representing North Solomons electorates have inevitably been involved in the negotiations concerning the Bougainville rebellion. By crossing the floor the MA helped to defeat the Somare government in March 1980 and then, in 1985, save the Somare government. In April 1985 Momis became Deputy Prime Minister. The strength of the MA has decreased in recent years and in October 1993 it was an Opposition party with only five parliamentary members.

National Party

The National Party (originally the New Guinea National Party) was formed in November 1970 by Thomas Kavali (Western Highlands) and a group of university students. The NP was the only highland party which supported early Independence. Kavali and Iambakey Okuk and several sympathizers who stood as Independents were successful candidates in the 1972 elections. The NP held four portfolios in the 1972 National Coalition Government. Okuk, who joined the NP after the election as deputy leader, became Minister for Agriculture, Stock and Fisheries and subsequently Transport and Education. The party split in 1976 when Kavali and Okuk were dismissed from their ministries by Prime Minister Somare but other NP members elected to stay with Somare’s governing coalition. The 1982 election manifesto included reform of the public service, regional (as distinct from provincial) governments, relaxation of the laws covering foreign investment and the establishment of joint foreign and PNG state enterprises.

After the 1982 election Edward (Ted) Diro brought his Papua New Guinea Independent Group into the NP. Okuk, who had been leader of the party, was defeated, and he bestowed party leadership on Diro. Diro handed the leadership back to Okuk when he was returned to parliament in a by-election in 1983. The party split again in 1986 when Diro took his group into the People’s Action Party. The NP campaigned poorly in 1987 and split in 1988 with members in both Government and Opposition. In 1992 and 1993 the NP had only two parliamentary members. The party’s fortunes have been adversely affected by changes in leadership. Since 1980 the NP has been led by Okuk (1980-82), Edward (Ted) Diro (1982-83), Okuk (1983-84), Stephen Tago (1984-85), Okuk (1985-86), Michael Mel (1987-1992) and Paul Pora (1992- ).

Pangu Pati

Papua New Guinea Union or PANGU, PNG’s most successful political party, was founded in June 1967. In 1967 the platform included: early limited self-government (“home rule”) leading to ultimate independence; an increase in the number of PNGans in the Public Service; improved educational and communication facilities; and development of the modern economy. By December 1967 PANGU had eight branches, the support of 12 members of the House of Assembly and Albert Maori Kiki as a full-time secretary. From 1970 until 1972 Pangu produced Pangu Pati Nius, the first PNGan-initiated newspaper.

PANGU, led by Michael Somare, and its various coalition partners dominated the parliament in the lead-up to Independence in 1975. PANGU was the only strongly nationalist party. It advocated a national, not a regional approach, to PNG’s future. Aside from early self-government and Independence, and the transfer of jobs from expatriates to PNGans (“localization”), its policies in the 1970s emphasized welfare and rural development. At this stage PANGU was cautious about encouraging overseas investment. Somare formed a National Coalition Government in April 1972, was Chief Minister at self-government in 1973 and led the country to Independence in 1975. PANGU was returned to Government in 1977 after the first post-Independence elections. PANGU’s expensive election campaign was partly funded by expatriates and mortgages on the real estate owned by the Damai, the party’s successful business arm. Somare was Prime Minister from 1977 to 1980 when he was replaced by Julius Chan in the House of Assembly on a vote of no confidence moved by Iambakey Okuk.

In 1978 the People’s Progress Party withdrew from the governing coalition but PANGU stayed in Government until 1980 by forming an alliance with the majority faction of its long-time enemy the United Party. In 1982 PANGU’s well-organized and well-funded campaign centered on the personality of Somare. PANGU was returned to power in 1982 with 50 of the 108 seats but its parliamentary numbers dropped after the defection of members who formed the League for National Advancement (1984) and the People’s Democratic Movement (1985). PANGU lost Government through a vote of no confidence in 1985 and won only 26 seats in the 1987 election. The 1987 election platform gave a general commitment to education, health, social welfare, and law and order, but had few specific policies.

In May 1988 Somare handed the leadership over to Rabbie Namaliu who became Prime Minister on a vote of no confidence against Paias Wingti in July of that year. Despite several planned votes of no confidence PANGU and its coalition partners retained Government until the 1992 elections. In July 1992 Namaliu narrowly lost (55:54) to a coalition led by the People’s Democratic Movement leader Wingti. When Namaliu stepped down (for family reasons) as leader of PANGU and the Opposition Somare held these positions until March 1993 when he was replaced by Jack Genia. When Genia died in July 1993 he was succeeded, in August, by Chris Haiveta. Somare resigned from PANGU shortly after resigning as leader.

Although the largest party both before and after Independence PANGU has never had the numbers to govern in its own right. Since Independence there has been little difference between PANGU policies and those of other political parties. PANGU now fully espouses foreign investment and unfettered capitalist development. In October 1993 PANGU had 18 parliamentary members.

Papua Besena (PB)

Papua Besena (“hands off Papua”) was a secessionist movement established in Central District in 1972 to fight for self-government for Papua. It was founded and led by Josephine Abaijah, the first, and one of only three women, elected to the national parliament, and the only woman to lead a political party. During a series of meetings in 1973, Abaijah and a white advisor Dr Eric Wright, argued that Papua would become dominated by New Guinea if it were forced into a political union, Australia should continue to provide aid to support an economic development plan as compensation for past neglect and Papuans should retain Australian citizenship until they could govern themselves.

People’s Action Party

In the early 1980s the ex-Commander of the Papua New Guinea Defence Force Edward (Ted) Diro formed the Papuan-based PNG Independent Group. This group joined the National Party in 1982 but defected in December 1986 to form the People’s Action Party (PAP) to participate in the 1987 election as a party with strong Papuan regional appeal. The 1987 election platform included improvement in the conditions of the army, free education, law and order and a promise to fight corruption. Diro was a Minister in the Wingti cabinets formed in 1985 and 1987. In 1988 Diro was charged with perjury arising from his appearance at an enquiry into corruption in the forestry industry. The charges were dismissed but, when Wingti refused to reinstate him as a Minister, Diro used his PAP numbers to bring down the Wingti Government and returned to the ministry with the PAP supporting a PANGU coalition. In 1989 the PAP, with 16 members, was the third largest party in the Government. In the first session of the House of Assembly after the 1992 election, the PANGU-PAP alliance lost to Wingti’s People’s Democratic Movement-People’s Progress Party alliance 55:54 on the casting vote of the Speaker. In May 1993 a major PAP faction led by the Speaker Bill Skate broke with the PAP to form the People’s National Congress. In October 1993 the PAP had four parliamentary members.

People’s Democratic Movement

In December 1984 Paias Wingti and his faction within the PANGU Pati lost out in a reshuffle of Michael Somare’s cabinet. In March 1985 Wingti resigned from PANGU and challenged Michael Somare’s Prime Ministership in a vote of no confidence. The motion was defeated and the 14 PANGU members who had supported it were expelled. On 28 March 1985 the expelled members formed a new political party, the People’s Democratic Movement (PDM), under the leadership of Wingti with Nahau Rooney as Acting General Secretary. Any differences in ideology or policy between the PDM and PANGU were not apparent to outsiders. In November 1985 Somare was defeated in a vote of no confidence. Wingti became Prime Minister and his PDM headed a five-party coalition.

In 1987 the PDM fought on a platform of support for agriculture and an appeal to the highlanders to keep a highlander as Prime Minister. Wingti retained the Prime Ministership after the 1987 elections but lost to PANGU’s Rabbie Namaliu in a vote of no confidence in July 1988. In July 1992 Wingti defeated Namaliu (55:54) and formed a Coalition Government of the PDM, People’s Progress Party, the League for National Advancement and Independents. The PDM’s policies in 1992 included revitalization of commercial agriculture, improved rural services, an open economy actively involved in international trade, increased participation of PNGans in the modern economy, privatization of statutory bodies, promotion of manufacturing, free primary school education and commitment to ”good government”. In October 1993 the PDM had 25 parliamentary members.

People’s Progress Party

The People’s Progress Party (PPP) was established in the second half of 1970 by Julius (later Sir Julius) Chan, expatriate Warren Dutton, and nine parliamentarians. After general elections in 1972 and 1977 the PPP’s parliamentary members voted for Michael Somare as Prime Minister and joined the PANGU Pati in coalition governments. In November 1978 the PPP left the coalition claiming that the Prime Minister had failed to consult their leader, Chan, over proposed amendments to the Leadership Code and a Ministerial reshuffle. Chan was elected Prime Minister following a no confidence vote in March 1980 and the PPP formed a Coalition Government with the National Party, the United Party, the Melanesian Alliance, the Papua Party and Independents.

At the 1982 elections the PPP campaigned for an honest, strong, stable and “progressive” government and relied upon Chan’s personality and reputation for capable financial management. The PPP won 14 seats and Chan chose to take minority party status in Opposition rather than join the Opposition coalition. In 1985 the party backed Paias Wingti (People’s Democratic Movement [PDM]) to oust Michael Somare (PANGU) as Prime Minister. The PPP won only six seats in the 1987 election and joined a Government coalition led by Wingti until he was voted from office in July 1988. The PPP remained with the PDM in Opposition. By 1992 the PPP fortunes had improved dramatically. The party won 20 seats, joined Wingti’s PDM to form a Government and the PPP leader Chan became Deputy Prime Minister.

Political Parties in Papua New Guinea

In the lead-up to PNG’s independence, the Australian Administration progressively, if perhaps somewhat belatedly, established the institutions of an essentially Westminster parliamentary democracy. A part-elected, part-appointed House of Assembly was created in 1964, replacing an appointed Legislative Council, and further elections were held in 1968 and 1972, the latter producing the country’s first wholly elected Parliament.

Initially, there was little enthusiasm for political parties. As late as 1967, Australia’s External Affairs Minister, Charles Barnes, suggested that ‘the Territory would be better off without [political] parties’, and this view was shared by many field officers of the Australian Administration, who tended to be wary of any indigenous political organisation and disparaging of attempts to establish political parties. Recalling his unsuccessful electoral campaign in 1967, Albert Maori Kiki said:

Many people had told me that it was unwise to campaign on the Pangu platform, that the administration had tried to discredit us and that it could be used against me. In fact most of the Pangu candidates, even the ones from the inner circle, campaigned as individuals in order not to expose themselves to this kind of attack.

Even as the 1972 elections approached, some officials of the Australian Administration ‘foster[ed] the attitude that parties were detrimental to the country’.

Despite this, political education material prepared by the Administration before the elections of 1968 and 1972 commended political parties, specifically supporting the idea of two or three parties over one or many, and, after a visiting UN mission in 1971 had recommended that parties be promoted on a nationwide basis, the Administration distributed a booklet on parties that contained the platforms of the three major parties at that time. Indeed, by the early 1970s, it might be said that the Administration was propagandising for the institution of political parties as some well-informed Papua New Guineans were arguing against parties as being potentially disruptive.

Inhibiting factors aside, mass-based political movements did emerge in the pre-independence period. Among the various political organisations to appear on the scene before the elections for the second House of Assembly in 1968, two — the United Christian Democratic Party (later United Democratic PartyUDP) and the Papua New Guinea National Union (Pangu Pati) — might be described as the first indigenous, mass-based parties. The UDP, an ideologically conservative party identified with the Catholic mission, was established in the East Sepik Province in 1966, but proved to be short-lived, fading away after a disappointing showing in the 1968 election. Pangu was more successful: when the second House of Assembly sat in 1968, 10 of the 84 members were Pangu members, and the party declared itself to be the ‘loyal opposition’ to the Administration-dominated ‘government’. Nevertheless, a study of the 1968 election, echoing Kiki’s comments, minimised the influence of parties in the election:

Outside a handful of towns, there was little sign of the ‘political parties’ so hastily inaugurated during 1967 … At worst … it was an electoral liability for a candidate to be publicly associated with them, and candidates … avoided or even denied such association.

And Ted Wolfers observed:

Parties probably had a real impact at the popular level only in the East Sepik, Bougainville and Morobe districts.

Between 1968 and 1972, two other mass-based movements emerged, which were described at the time as political parties. These were the Mataungan Association of East New Britain and Napidakoe Navitu of the North Solomons. But though both movements fielded candidates in the election of 1972 (and the Mataungans again in 1977), they were not formed as political parties to contest elections. Before the end of the 1968–72 House of Assembly, three more political parties had emerged. The first of these, the United Party, had its origins in an Independent Members’ Group (IMG) established in the House in 1968 among a group of members brought together essentially by their opposition to Pangu’s demand for early independence. The group consisted largely of Highlands members together with some of the more conservative expatriate members. In 1968–69, attempts were made by members of the IMG to create local groups to support a political party centred on the IMG and, in early 1970, the formation of a coordinating body, Combined Political Associations (Compass), was announced. Its chairman and secretary were both Highlanders. The next year, Compass changed its name to United Party (UP). By mid 1971, UP claimed the backing of 45 parliamentary members. A second party also emerged from within the IMG in 1970: the Business Services Group, under the leadership of Julius Chan, comprised 10 members, mostly from the New Guinea Islands, who, it was suggested ‘seemed to represent a regional distrust of the highlands leadership implicit in Compass’. The Business Services Group subsequently founded the People’s Progress Party (PPP). The association of Highlanders with a ‘go-slow’ attitude to independence, which Compass represented, also prompted the formation among a group of generally younger and more progressive Highlanders of the New Guinea National Party (NP), which was generally regarded as ‘the highlands equivalent of Pangu.’

The 1972 election was thus, for the first time, contested by parties. About 150 of the 611 candidates who nominated were endorsed or selected and helped by parties, and in his overview of the election David Stone concluded that ‘Undoubtedly … what marked the 1972 general election from its predecessors was the prominent and active participation by political parties and associations’. Nevertheless, some candidates were still hesitant about publicly admitting party membership, and party organisation was still weak: as in 1968, a number of electorates fielded more than one candidate from the same party, and no party had a nationwide organisation. In the event, no party emerged from the 1972 elections with a clear majority and, notwithstanding the expectations of the UP (which had anticipated up to 60 seats and in fact won about 37), after some intense lobbying of members elected without formal party commitment, Pangu leader Michael Somare was able to cobble together a National Coalition Government, which embraced Pangu (with 18 endorsed candidates winning, and additional pro-Pangu members bringing its numbers to 26), PPP (11), NP (eight), the Mataungan Association (three) and eight independents. This post-election lobbying of apparently unattached members set a precedent for all subsequent elections. The UP accepted the role of Opposition, and this party alignment was broadly maintained during the life of the 1972–77 Parliament (though in 1975 some UP members supported the Government on critical divisions).

In 1972, a Constitutional Planning Committee was appointed to begin the process of preparing a constitution for the independent state. Its Final Report (1974) contained only a brief comment on political parties, proposing that parties be registered and supporting the idea of public funding for parties. The Constitution subsequently provided that organic laws would make provision to ensure the integrity of political parties and candidates, but 25 years later this had not been done.

Between 1972 and the first post-independence election in 1977, there were several significant developments in the incipient party system. One was the emergence of the Nationalist Pressure Group (NPG) in 1974. The NPG represented a coalescence of members who supported the proposals of the Constitutional Planning Committee against modifications put forward by the Government. Although it voted as a cohesive group on ‘national’ issues in 1974–75, the NPG specifically avoided the label ‘party’ and its 18 core members — drawn from the four major parties plus the Mataungan Association and a newly formed Country Party (whose members were recruited mostly from the UP) — retained their party affiliations. Another development was the election, in a by-election in 1976, of a second member representing the separatist Papua Besena movement, whose leader, Josephine Abaijah, had been elected in 1972, and the subsequent announcement of a Papua Party. A third was the split and virtual collapse of the NP in 1976, after Somare had dismissed from Cabinet its leader and deputy leader, and a move by them to withdraw all NP members from the coalition failed. The NP split provides an early example of the way in which parties have fractured when some party members have jockeyed for a place in a new coalition while others have wanted to hold on to ministerial portfolios. By the end of the 1972–77 Parliament, party allegiances, as well as coalition ties, were looking fragile and there were calls for variously an all-party system and a no-party system.

In 1977, the party mass organisations, which had generally atrophied since 1972, were revived for the country’s fourth and inaugural post-independence election. This time, of the 879 candidates who contested the 109 seats, 295 (30 per cent) were endorsed by one, or more, of the three major parties. In addition, a number of Papuan candidates stood for Papua Besena, which in 1977 appeared to have evolved from an ill-defined separatist movement to a fully fledged political party. Observers of the 1977 poll seem to have been generally agreed that political parties had a substantial impact on the election, though in an interim report on the election Bill Standish concluded that while in the towns, competition ‘was more in terms of modern associations’, in rural areas ‘clan voting prevailed’. In 1977, as in 1972, uncertainties about the political allegiances of some candidates resulted in intense post-election lobbying among those who hoped to be able to put together a government. One proposal was for a ‘National Alliance’ including UP, Papua Besena, the Country Party and NP. Another was for an Islands-based Alliance for Progress and Regional Development, led by the two former NPG spokesmen, John Momis and John Kaputin. In the event, the successful combination was a coalition of the enlarged Pangu and PPP membership (38 and 20 respectively) with most of the Mataungan and North Solomons members and two UP defectors, led by Somare. After several months of infighting within the Opposition, former NP minister Iambakey Okuk emerged as Opposition Leader. Having attempted unsuccessfully to bring together his Highlands supporters, Papua Besena members and some others in a People’s United Front, Okuk revived the NP and, as its leader, waged an aggressive campaign against the Coalition.

In November 1978, after a growing unease in the relationship between PPP and Pangu (which had probably more to do with personalities and leadership styles than with policies), PPP withdrew from the Coalition. Pangu was maintained in office by a split within the UP, which brought about half of that party’s members across the floor to the Government. In 1978–79, the Somare Government survived three no-confidence motions initiated by Okuk, but in January 1980, after a Cabinet reshuffle, Momis and Kaputin withdrew from the Coalition, forming a new party, the Melanesian Alliance (MA), and, two months later, with their support, a no-confidence vote against the Somare Government succeeded. Chan became Prime Minister as the head of a National Alliance Government comprising PPP, NP, MA, Papua Besena and part of UP.

The Alliance was able to hold on to office until the scheduled elections of 1982, but it was, to say the least, an improbable coalition. PPP and NP, broadly aligned in support of capitalist development and foreign investment (though with little personal empathy between Chan and Okuk), were at one end of a political spectrum from the MA, which regarded itself as being to the left of Pangu and whose leaders were strongly identified with economic nationalism and the aim of self-sufficiency; and Papua Besena, which owed its origins in large part to fear and distrust of Highlanders, was a strange bedfellow for a coalition in which Highlands members were a large component and whose deputy leader (Okuk) was a staunch Highlands nationalist.

Between 1977 and 1981, extra-parliamentary party organisation, such as it was, had again atrophied, but party organisations were resuscitated in the lead-up to the 1982 elections and several new groupings appeared. Indeed, in the 1982 elections, parties seemed to be more salient than ever. Pangu, PPP, UP, NP, MA and Papua Besena/Papua Party all fielded candidates, while two new groups — a Papua Action Party (which had links with the NP) and a predominantly Papuan ‘Independent Group’ headed by former Defence Force Commander Ted Diro — emerged as significant contenders. Some 59 per cent of the 1,125 candidates who stood in 1982 were endorsed by one or more of these eight parties. My own observation of the 1982 campaign in the East Sepik suggested not only that nearly all candidates sought a party label (some, indeed, more than one) but that a high proportion of voters could accurately attach party labels to most candidates; nevertheless, ‘party organization was still fairly rudimentary and … local and kin ties and exposure to the electorate were still critically important’.

Notwithstanding this, party attachment for most candidates seemed still to be loose and it was not rare for a candidate who failed to get endorsement or assistance from one party to turn to another; for some parties and in some electorates, party attachment meant little more than the use of a label. Further, in a number of instances, party members stood against endorsed candidates of their own party against their party’s interests (though in some cases, parties — especially Pangu — supported more than one candidate in order to split the local vote of opponents of their endorsed candidate). Overall, it seemed that although there was in 1982 some increase in party voting, personal and local loyalties were still considerably more important for the majority of voters.

The outcome of the 1982 election was a victory for Pangu, which — apart from the recently established MA — was the only party to increase its representation in the Parliament. Somare was duly re-elected to the Prime Ministership, heading a government comprising Pangu (with 50 members), UP (six) and a number of members who were either elected as independents or switched from other parties after the election. Diro emerged as Opposition Leader, and, surprisingly, Parliamentary Leader of the NP, after Okuk had lost his seat in Simbu; but when, in 1983, Okuk was returned in a by-election, Diro stepped down from both posts in Okuk’s favour. The MA aligned itself with the NP/Independent Group and Papua Party in opposition, but the PPP for a while occupied the middle benches.

In 1985–86, Pangu Pati suffered two splits. The first occurred when a group of 15 members led by Deputy Prime Minister Paias Wingti (a Highlander, who had been elected as a UP candidate but switched to Pangu in 1977) left to form a new party, the People’s Democratic Movement (PDM). The second came in early 1986 when a small
group of senior Pangu members, led by Somare’s Sepik colleague Anthony Siaguru, formed a Pangu Independent Group (PIG). The PIG sought acceptance as an ‘affiliate’ of Pangu, but when this was refused they broke away to form the League for National Advancement. The Somare Government survived a vote of no confidence early in 1985 with support from the NP and MA, but in November a vote of no confidence went against Somare, and Wingti became Prime Minister, leading a coalition consisting of PDM, PPP, NP and some Pangu, UP and MA defectors. During 1986, there was tension within the Coalition, particularly between Wingti, Okuk (until his death in late 1986) and Chan, but the Coalition was still intact when Parliament rose for the 1987 election.

As the 1987 election approached, five new parties emerged, including the People’s Action Party (PAP), a Papuan-based party led by Diro, which drew on the support for the earlier Papuan Action Party and Diro’s Independent Group, and the Morobe Independent Group (MIG) headed by former student leader and Morobe Premier, Utula Samana. This gave a total of 15 parties. Despite the increased number of parties, the percentage of party-endorsed candidates among the 1,513 candidates nominating dropped to 37, and independents won 22 of the 109 seats. In a pre-election survey of voters conducted by Yaw Saffu, to the question ‘What is it that you would look for in the candidate you will be voting for?’, only 3.4 per cent of respondents answered ‘Party’. When votes were counted, Pangu had 26 seats, PDM 17, NP 12, MA seven, PAP six, PPP five, MIG four, LNA three, Papua Party three and UP one. Elections for the three remaining seats were postponed. It was widely expected that Somare would be able to put together a winning coalition, but in the event it was Wingti who was successful, emerging as the leader of what Somare described as ‘a ramshackle gaggle of unruly independents’, which included the PPP and a newly formed Papuan Bloc led by Diro, which included PP, PAP and some independents.

In the next months, the governing coalition came under severe strain. Diro, who had served as Minister for Forests in the previous Wingti Government, had been named in an investigation into the forestry industry and faced a leadership tribunal as well as perjury charges; it was also disclosed that he had received ‘campaign contributions’ of almost $A180,000 from Indonesian Armed Forces Commander, Benny Murdani, contrary to the provisions of PNG’s Constitution. Notwithstanding this, Diro continued to press for appointment as Deputy Prime Minister and for more Cabinet posts for the Papuan-dominated PAP, and failed to dissociate himself from rumours of an impending coup, after Wingti had removed the commander of the PNG Defence Force (PNGDF) and three colonels, all of whom were Papuans. Kaputin, who had been expelled from the MA for joining the Wingti Coalition in 1985, initiated a meeting of New Guinea Islands’ members (attended by 10 of the 17 Islands members), which called for ‘political stability, social justice and a return to the principles of democracy’. And there were defections from the governing coalition, one member referring to the Government as ‘morally
corrupt’. Facing a vote of no confidence, the Government adjourned Parliament. During the adjournment there were, first, moves for a ‘grand coalition’ including PDM, PPP and Pangu, over which talks collapsed, and then the signing of an ‘irrevocable memorandum of understanding’ for the formation of a Government of National Reconciliation, embracing PDM, PPP, Pangu, PAP and Samana’s renamed Melanesian United Front (MUF). But while Wingti was signing an agreement with Pangu, he was secretly negotiating with the NP (then led by Wingti’s fellow Highlander Michael Mel), and, in a Cabinet reshuffle in June 1988, NP was dealt in and Pangu excluded.

A motion of no confidence was foreshadowed as soon as Parliament met later that month, and there was a spate of defections from PDM. The NP also split, again. In the subsequent vote, a combination of Pangu (including a few members who defected back to Pangu), most of the Papuan Bloc, the MA, LNA, a faction of NP and a few others prevailed over Wingti’s leadership, and Rabbie Namaliu, who had replaced Somare as Parliamentary Leader of Pangu in July 1988, became PNG’s fourth Prime Minister.

Despite the enlightened leadership of Namaliu, and the passage of a budget of ‘unity, reconciliation and reconstruction’, the period from mid-1988 to 1992, when the next election took place, was turbulent. It saw the start of the Bougainville rebellion, unrest within the PNGDF, economic downturn and escalating problems of law and order. Several votes of no confidence were initiated, and Parliament was adjourned for further long periods in 1989 and 1990. In 1991, the Constitution was amended to extend the initial grace period for votes of no confidence from six months to 18. There were several Cabinet reshuffles, which, among others, saw Diro eventually achieve the position of Deputy Prime Minister, a position he held until April 1991, when he was found guilty of 81 counts of misconduct under the Leadership Code. The decision of the Leadership Tribunal in the Diro case precipitated a brief constitutional crisis when the Governor-General, a Papuan and former president of the PAP, refused to sack Diro. The tensions brought about by all this political activity saw a split in the PAP, defections from PDM and PPP, and from Pangu, and several parties expelled rebellious MPs.

Commenting on Wingti’s political machinations in mid-1988, Saffu suggested that ‘Wingti’s modus operandi had helped to raise the levels of cynicism and deception in PNG politics’. Indeed, the well-publicised comings and goings in the Parliament of 1987–92 left many people cynical about political parties, and, although there was, once more, something of a revival of extra-parliamentary party activity in the lead-up to the 1992 election, parties seem to have been less salient in 1992 than in the previous two or three elections. Six of the parties that had contested in 1987 had disappeared (including Samana’s MIG/MUF, Papua Besena and the Papua Party), and several new parties emerged, including the People’s Solidarity Party (PSP), a breakaway from the PAP. The PSP polled well (probably in part at the expense of the PAP), but failed to win a seat and subsequently faded away.

In 1992, the fee for candidature was raised from K100 to K1,000 in an attempt to counteract the growth in the number of candidates standing, but the number continued to rise, to 1,655. Of these, 75 per cent chose to stand as independents. In 1987, the seven major parties (Pangu, PPP, PDM, MA, PAP, LNA and NP) won 51 per cent of votes and 76 seats; in 1992, their share of the vote fell to 32 per cent and they won 68 seats. Pangu was the most successful party, but its percentage of the total vote fell from 34 to 9 per cent and seats won from 50 to 20. In the vote for Prime Minister, Wingti, in coalition with the PPP, LNA and a group of independents, defeated Namaliu by a single vote. As in every Parliament to date, there was a mid-term change of government in 1994 when, having resigned and been re-elected as Prime Minister in a move to avoid a vote of no confidence, Wingti was removed after a Supreme Court ruling against his action. In the reshuffling that followed, PPP leader Chan became Prime Minister, outvoting prominent Port Moresby politician Bill Skate of the Papua New Guinea First Party (PNGFP); Chan headed yet another coalition government, in partnership with Pangu. Chris Haiveta, who had succeeded Namaliu as Pangu leader, became Deputy Prime Minister.

In 1997, there was a major political upheaval when the Chan Government, having secretly negotiated a contract with ‘military consultants’ Sandline International to bring an end to the Bougainville rebellion, was challenged by the Commander of the PNGDF, Brigadier General Singirok. Singirok denounced the contract, detained the Sandline mercenaries and called on Chan, Haiveta and the Defence Minister to stand down. An inquiry was set up and a major crisis averted, but in the ensuing election Chan lost his seat.

Once again, there was a proliferation of parties on the eve of the 1997 election. New parties included the People’s National Congress (PNC), which replaced the PNGFP as Skate’s Papuan-based party; the Movement for Greater Autonomy (MGA), a New Guinea Islands-based party headed by former Manus Premier, Stephen Pokawin; and the National Alliance (NAL). In 1995, Somare, then a member of the Chan Government, had opposed legislation that fundamentally changed the country’s provincial government system. As a result, he was dropped from Cabinet and became alienated from some of his Pangu colleagues. He subsequently founded the NA as a new political grouping, comprising the MA, the MGA (which also had its origins in the provincial government debate), some Pangu supporters and progressive independents. Somare used the NA as his electoral vehicle in 1997. Of the 2,372 candidates contesting, 712 were listed as having party attachment, though parties in 1997 seemed to have fewer resources to offer and party leaders seemed to be less active outside their own electorates. On these figures, the proportion of independents fell slightly, to 70 per cent, though the actual number rose. PAP fielded the largest number of candidates; surprisingly, given its Papuan origins, more than half of these were in Highlands electorates, where there were multiple PAP candidates in a number of electorates.

When votes were counted, PPP (which had won eight seats in 1992 but had seen its support grow to 32 before the parliamentary recession of 1997) had 16 seats; Pangu had also lost ground, gaining 13 seats; the NA had 11 (including four MA seats); PDM nine; NP seven; PNC six (all in Papuan electorates); PAP six, and there were 38 independents. In the scramble for numbers prior to Parliament sitting, it looked as though Somare would emerge on top. The NA-led coalition failed to get the numbers in Parliament when Skate, who had promised support for Somare, took his PNC into a rival grouping and was rewarded with the Prime Ministership.

The Skate Government faced several minor crises between 1997 and 1999 — mostly self-made. In December 1998, there was another long adjournment of Parliament designed to avoid a vote of no confidence (between July 1998 and June 1999, Parliament met for only 17 days). Tensions had emerged between Skate and Haiveta, and when, in 1999, Skate dropped Haiveta from Cabinet, Pangu withdrew from the Coalition and backed the PDM in a successful move to oust Skate. Wingti having lost his seat in 1997, the leadership of PDM was assumed in 1998 by former Treasury Secretary and Central Bank Governor, Sir Mekere Morauta, who had stood as an independent in 1997 and had been a minister in the Skate Government before becoming one of 12 ministers sacked by Skate. In the vote for Prime Minister, Morauta won by 99 votes to five — with Skate voting for him! Morauta thus became PNG’s sixth Prime Minister. In 2001, a number of members switched allegiance to the PDM, giving it for a while an absolute majority in Parliament, but the 2002 elections saw a shift away from the party.

See also: Characteristics of political parties in PNG