After one particularly volatile Parliamentary session, Prime Minister Sir Julius Chan was heard to comment, “I have often read foreign commentators refer to our politics as ‘crazy and without ideology’. But our politics are not illogical, unstable or even unpredictable.”
Papua New Guinea has maintained the democratic process in its own inimitable style. One feature of this is a plethora of parties which appear to have little fixed ideology. Parties have so little commitment to a manifesto that members are able to step in and out of them as they do their clothes. In traditional village politics, debates and allegiances would form over single issues and no one was expected to commit themselves to long term loyalties.
Of all the parties in PNG the People’s Progress Party, Pangu Party and People’s Democratic Movement have been the most successful. The Melanesian Alliance, led by Bougainville MP Father John Momis has always been seen as the ‘conscience’ party and is the closest to a leftist party on the PNG political scene. There are at least five other smaller parties including one with just a single member.
One of the mechanisms that keeps coalitions and ministers in power is the ‘lock-up’ or ‘camp’. In the days immediately after an election, the Parliament and Port Moresby will be denuded of politicians. They will have been lured away to an island resort or remote ‘camp’ where they cannot be ‘got at’ by the opposition. Here the political groupings are cemented, at least temporarily. It is a version of a traditional big man’s feast.
In the 1987 elections, independents won 41% of the vote. Gaining their allegiance was essential if a party leader was to make any headway in the Parliamentary chamber. Much the same thing happens prior to a major or tricky piece of legislation It is a different but perfectly practical and logical way of doing parliamentary business.