Throughout the Oceanic sub-region of Melanesia politicalinstability is not only prominent, it is the societal norm, this beingespecially true for the states of Papua New Guinea, Vanuatu, and the SolomonIslands. By exploring the bases of the fluid party structures and outlining theeffects these fissiparous parties have on political governance we are able tonot only contextualize political parties within these three states but also seethe need for reform within the party systems.
By utilizing a synopsis ofinternational approaches to political party strengthening and political partyengineering we are able to make preliminary suggestions regarding how theseelements can be synthesized to form the basis of engineering, capacitybuilding, and strengthening strategies for parties within Papua New Guinea,Vanuatu, and the Solomon Islands. Thereby explaining how party strengthening inthese three states as well as all of Melanesia can only work to strengthen theparliamentary government systems. Theories of Political Party OperationPolitical parties are a fundamental aspect in the operationof functioning governments, especially democratic regimes, because they play animportant role in good governance. A strong, representative, and responsivepolitical party is able to legitimize the government of a society because ofthe sense of vertical accountability they feel from the electorates, partymembers, and affiliated organizations (Okole). In addition to this, politicalparties are what allows for a peaceful transition between leaders within ahighly competitive political system. Growth in mass media and civil society has led to theerosion of dominance by political parties within many Western societies.Despite this, political parties have always remained the primary vehicle forpolitical action within the west, as well as having major influence on thedevelopment of public policy.
Political parties are what allows for “diverseidentities, interests, preferences, and passions” to be fashioned into laws,policies, appropriations, and coalitions (Loewenberg). Put in simpler terms,political parties serve as the vehicles for aggregation of societal interestsand the transition of these interests to public policies. Melanesian Political Parties in ContextThe apparent weakness of political parties within Melanesiais an issue of increasing prominence. Scott Mainwaring and Timothy Scully ofStanford University have described party organizations in Melanesia as “weak”because of the “high electoral volatility,” which has led to “party roots insocieties being weak and individual personalities dominating the parties andcampaigns” (Mainwaring et al). The traditional bases of party development,programmatic and ideological cleavages, have been second to ethnic, regional,religious, and linguistic factors when shaping the political competition.
Whilethere are examples of long-standing political parties within Melanesia, such asthe Vanua’aku Pati in Vanuatu and the Pangu Pati in Papua New Guinea, themajority of parties are short-lived. Mainwaring and Scully believe this isbecause most parties are “lacking a mass base, organizational structure,coherent ideology and firm party discipline” (Mainwaring et al). A majority ofthe political parties in Papua New Guinea, Vanuatu, and the Solomon Islandstend to exist mainly within the legislature and are only active outside of itduring election season. John Ballard believes this is because within Melanesia,”parties often act like parliamentary associations, with members joining aparty once they have been elected to parliament. Rather than parties drivingthe pre-selection of candidates, parties are forced to choose popular localcandidates for their survival” (Ballard).
Because political parties inMelanesia do not tend to espouse clear ideological positions and rather have avery general pro-development message, they have evolved into electoral andstrategic tools discarded at any convenience (Ballard). One example of this canbe found within the early successes of the Pangu Pati within Papua New Guinea.During the formative years of the political party, the leaders of Pangu Patigave way to fragmentation after the resolution of the independence issue withinPapua New Guinea in 1975. According to Ron May, there was very little by way ofpolicy differentiation between the various Papua New Guinea political parties.May similarly found that in Vanuatu the polarization between nationalist andcentralist Anglophone and federalist, primarily Francophone parties began toerode in the late 1980s, as leadership challenges within the Vanua’aku Patiprovoked major factional splits (May). Within Melanesia today political parties are arbitrary andinstitutionally weak.
It is often found that candidates rely solely on theirpersonal qualities and their connection to constituents, rather thanparty-based platforms. The highly personalized nature of politics throughoutMelanesia has led to parties being prone to fragmentation as they organizearound personalities rather than political cleavages. According to Henry Okole,Bernard Narokobi and Quinton Clements, political parties in Melanesia: “have consistentlyfailed to be permanent and genuine linkages between the government and thepeople. Like the state machinery that is easily accessed by political actors toserve their ends, most political parties in the country are the extra arms oftheir creators” (Okole et al). The primary reason for this ismembers of Parliament feels little to no obligation or allegiance to thepolitical party he or she stood with during the campaign period. In addition tothis, there are no constitutional regulations on switching party allegianceswhile serving in parliament. Localdemands and needs are often left with no response in centralized parties, makingmany grassroot electors disinterested in organized politics.
For example, inVanuatu “electoral results indicate a shift away from the major parties tominor parties and independents, which in turn implies the subordination ofnational concerns (e.g. good governance) to intensely local ones (localdevelopment, responsive local representation, access to development funds)” (ElectoralCommission). This shift is only exemplified by the increase in support for thelocally credible independent candidates, who typically run on local developmentplatforms. Whereas at independence in 1980 Vanuatu parliament was polarizedbetween the majority Vanua’aku Pati, which commanded 60% of seats, and theUnion of Moderate Parties, which held the remainder, independents or minor partiesnow hold 50% or 26 seats in Vanuatu’s 52-seat parliament (Electoral Commission). Theslim electoral margins found within Melanesia in combination with the highturnover of incumbents during elections (more than 50% are not returned duringeach election) has led to many political parties in Melanesia to be attuned tothe need for rewarding direct electors. This drives the pursuit of personalwealth as being imperative for political survival in Papua New Guinea, Vanuatu,and the Solomon Islands.
However, the high turnover for political parties inthese states suggests fulfilling election promises is difficult because of thedemands placed on parties by intense factional political systems surroundingelection to Parliament and the formation of governments. The Effects of Fragmented Parties onGovernment and Opposition in Melanesia The main effect of the fluidity of political parties withinMelanesia is the instability of regimes. In present day society coalitionswithin Melanesia are formed by several small parties, which then form thegovernment.
These coalitions tend to survive very little time once in office. For example, since the Solomon Islands weregranted independence in 1978 governments have lasted no longer than two yearsbefore transition. During Vanuatu’s period of protracted instability between1995 and 1997, three votes of no confidence led to government changes and eightmajor coalition changes. Consequently, throughout Melanesia policy making hasalways been second to political survival and alliance forming. Within Papua New Guinea, Vanuatu, and the Solomon Islandsgovernments have been characterized by flimsy coalitions that lack ideologicalcoherence and unified primarily by the pragmatic considerations of attainingaccess to state resources. Throughout these three states, coalitions haveproven to be precarious, being beleaguered by competition over ministerialposts.
Factions within the government are centered around one singleindividual, who is linked to the other party members by patronage and complexsystems of reciprocity. Coalition fidelity is often shown little to no respectby the coalition member parties. Michael Morgan argues this is because theywould prefer “to progress upwardly within governments, with the intention ofclaiming the post of Prime Minister – the position which dominates control ofstate resources and therefore represents the most powerful position from whichto organize coalitions – or one of the other preferred portfolios” (Diamond).
This has thereby caused for the Prime Minister within Melanesian countries to becomeresponsible with mediating contending claims, through inducements (money,ministerial positions, bureaucratic positions) and sanctions. At the same time, political party allegiances have beenfurther weakened because national politicians have adopted pragmatic andopportunistic attitudes towards attaining certain positions within thecoalitions. This has led to the importance of ideological differences beinggreatly lessened. In addition to this, Prime Ministers have begun to give moreattention to gaining influence over utilities and placing allies andparty-members on governing boards of state-owned enterprises (citation).
Thesepositions are representative of important strategic points with which to distributethe resources and thereby strengthen the political alliances. Classical liberal theorists have outlined theresponsibilities of parliaments and parliamentarians with four basicexpectations; first, they should constitute the executive, second, to makelaws, third, to oversee the executive arm of government, and lastly, representcommunity concerns (Diamond). Unfortunately, these responsibilities have beensubordinated to factional contests. In Melanesian societies, fragmented partystructures have excluded policy making and law making from the public andtransparent realms of parliamentary debates, to “in-camera cabinet sessions,”which has left the public, partisans, and many government officials unaware ofthe implications and means of political machination (Baker). These negotiationsare often so tense that the Prime Minister’s attention is diverted fromimportant parliamentary procedures. The need for pragmatism has emphasizedpatronage and pay-offs as well as lessening the importance of the socialcleavages or policy platforms that differentiate the parliamentary politicalparties. This makes clearly defined rules such as Government and Oppositionappear secondary because most members of parliament seek not to oversee thebehavior of the executive but rather to join the Executive.
The maneuvering within the Melanesian political system hasled to high financial and political costs. In the past, executive governmentswithin Melanesia have been driven to extreme ends when attempting to raise thefunds necessary to maintain their political power. For example, after the 2004elections in Vanuatu, Serge Vohor, at the head of an increasingly brittlecoalition and an internally fractious party (the Union of Moderate Parties),opened diplomatic relations with Taiwan, despite Vanuatu’s One China Policy, toaccess the funds needed to pay-off dissident coalition and party members (ElectoralCommission). Here, the vicissitudes of factional politics and the desire toremain in power, were visibly driving policy. This illustrates how regimeinstability within Melanesia tends to undermine policy effectiveness andparliamentary functions such as law making and oversight. In Vanuatu, endemicparliamentary instability brought policy making and oversight to a halt in themid-to-late 1990s. In the Solomon Islands the inscrutability and instability ofthe national parliament precipitated the breakdown of social order. In PapuaNew Guinea political instability and corruption led to a warrant for PrimeMinister Peter O’Neill’s arrest in 2014.
Ways Forward for Melanesia Despite the systemic weaknesses within Melanesian politics,the mobilization of disparate political parties into coalition governments isstill the primary means by which government is formed. Parties tend to sustain functionaldemocratic institutions by strengthening accountability to the electorate andresponsiveness to their concerns and therefore remain an indispensableinstitutional framework for democracy. Due to the importance of politicalparties, many governments in developing societies have looked to party reformas a way to promote better governance and democratic consolidation. This trendhas been influenced by comparative research on parties across a range ofcontemporary democracies (Diamond). Stephen Haggard and Steven Webb argue that”party system fragmentation can present particular barriers to achievingsubstantive economic reform.
Political engineers’ have focused primarily oninstitutional reform, favoring two party system designs or stable coalitionsorganized on a left-right basis, due to the promise of democratic durability” (Haggardet al). Most developing nations have not evolved to dualistic party systemsdespite this promise via designs based on minimal projects with broad socialand ideological bases. When developing nations have attempted to follow thistheory they have not seen party systems develop as expected. Party strengthening programs throughout Africa, SouthAmerica, and Asia have historically failed, in the sense they’ve only hadambiguous or minimal returns.
Political engineers have advocated for a numberof alternative ways for crafting party systems to encourage theirdevelopment. In particular, they havefocused on the design of electoral systems as a means of rewarding interethnicmoderation and encouraging cross-ethnic or cross-regional vote seeking.Strengthening parties from the “top-down” via measures aimed at buildinggreater party discipline and organizational capacity is another mechanism forinfluencing political behavior and developing stable party systems (Alasia).Political engineers have paid little attention to the ways in which parties indeveloping democracies emerge and are sustained. Nonetheless, one of thesimplest measures available to Melanesian states is to regulate party formationand operation statutorily. For example, Papua New Guinea experienced majorconstitutional reform in 2000 and 2001 with the introduction of the Organic lawon the Integrity of Political Parties and Candidates (OLIPPC). The OLIPPCreforms had two main goals—first, to stabilize and encourage the development ofpolitical parties through new rules that regulate the formation, compositionand funding of parties; second, to stabilize the executive through provisionsthat limit how Prime Ministers can vote on a motion of no confidence againstthe executive (Chin). Despite minor amendments to the law in 2003 the initialintent remains unchanged; yet OLIPPC has failed in attempting to discourage newparties from being formed or split in Parliament.
Indeed, there may be atendency in Papua New Guinea to place too much emphasis on changes to politicalinstitutions when what lies at the heart of the problem are behavioral issuesor issues of political culture (Chin). The engineering of weak parties intostronger alliances and the shifting of coalitions of independents into partieswill take time, or may not happen at all. For instance, the number ofparliamentary parties fell from 21 after the 2002 elections to 15 in theaftermath of the 2004 elections, largely on account of the strict applicationof registration rules and procedures. Presently, it is crucial that reformists in Vanuatu andSolomon Islands be afforded comparative experiences on which to draw in theconceptualization of their own political party reform measures. Already someproposed reforms have fallen foul of poor planning, have been beholden to overtpolitical agendas or have been unconstitutional. In 2004, for example,Vanuatu’s parliament debated and passed constitutional amendments empoweringthe Prime Minister to terminate disloyal Prime Ministers and establishing agrace-period at the beginning and end of a government’s life in which no”motions of no confidence” would be allowed (LaPalombarra et al).
Quickly labeled as the Fourth Amendment to the Constitution, 50 of the 52members of parliament voted for the proposals. The Vanuatu Court of Appealhowever, deemed the Bill unconstitutional: not only was “the Parliament withoutthe power to pass the act but also due process was abrogated” (LaPalombarra).Not surprisingly, the Court of Appeal of Vanuatu threw out the FourthAmendment. Consequently, the reform agenda in Vanuatu now reflects the exampleset in Papua New Guinea more closely, with discussions currently being heldaround the idea of regulating parties, making party registration mandatory,establishing minimum party numbers, and demanding financial returns besubmitted by all registered parties.
Minor parties have voiced reservationsabout any strategies designed to bolster the power of the major parties on thegrounds that they will merely serve to entrench parties that are losing touchwith grassroots voters. Political party strengthening initiatives must reflect thisreality to develop more stable and aggregative political party systems thatencourage stronger links between citizens and the government, and therebygreater capacity for policy creation and implementation (Fraenkel). What areoften missing from the debates about political party engineering in Papua New Guineaare the critical discussions about party functioning which take into accountthese pressures and which conceptualize strategies for targeting local people’sexpectations of representation and reciprocity from their Prime Ministers -issues that underpin contemporary party functioning in Melanesia. Irrespectiveof OLIPPC’s implementation and the queries that are raised about itsconstitutionality, advisability, and effectiveness, few comprehensive programshave been attempted to educate Papua New Guineans about the laws implications,import and constitutionality. Fundamental to the eventual success of OLIPPCwill be the level to which the Papua New Guinean government is able toundertake the civic education, advocacy, and lobbying needed to bolsterawareness about the implications of the regulatory framework provided by thislegislation (Fraenkel). ConclusionNo agreement rises up out of the worldwide writing on party strengtheningabout how best to expand the interest of gatherings past their coordinatearrangement of balloters and how best to rise above the connections of support,ethnicity and area which portray party functioning in Melanesia.
Given thecurrent political administration courses of action in Melanesia, parties are inany case fundamental to just state working. What stay challenged are thesuitable roads for affecting the adjustment of Melanesian political gatherings,for restricting floor crossings and for empowering the interests of all.Neither party engineering nor constituent changes intended to total partyinterests are especially shoddy or basic alternatives. In addition, appointivechanges tend to hurl startling outcomes.
Be that as it may, advancingsuccessful political administration through discourse and carefuladministrative changes, went down by viable relational systems furthermore, judiciouslyconnected specialized help projects may offer the possibility of accomplishmentto the current change bundles, and give models to local nations to combine,assess and, where fitting, receive.