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  • Papua New Guinea
  • James Stiefvater (bio)

The year 2017 had the potential to bring great changes to the Independent State of Papua New Guinea. Much of the political news was dominated by stories regarding the general election and the discontinuation of Australia's offshore refugee detention and processing center, hosted on the island of Manus. Other notable events affecting the nation included changes in leaders outside of the election, economic challenges, and the conclusion of the long-standing controversy over the arrest warrant of Prime Minister Peter O'Neill. At the conclusion of a year that brought numerous changes, much has stayed the same.

The beginning of the year saw an early overturn of leadership as two knights having the same first name ended their time in leadership. Governor-General Sir Michael Ogio passed away in February after a long struggle with issues of health. Ogio was in the final week of his six-year term as the queen's viceregal representative and, as his term was coming to a close, Parliament had already appointed Bob Dadae to fill the position. Dadae had served as a member of Parliament (mp) for the Kabwum electorate in Morobe Province for the previous fifteen years and assumed the role on 28 February. He was subsequently knighted in London. Dadae's appointment could be seen as a reward of sorts for crossing the floor from the government led by then-Prime Minister [End Page 519] Sir Michael Somare to the O'Neill-led opposition in 2011.

Although he initially indicated that he would step away from politics in 2012, Grand Chief Sir Michael Somare finalized his political legacy in April as he stepped away from a career that spanned more than fifty years in public service. Somare started as a teacher and government interpreter in the early 1960s before being elected to the House Assembly in 1968. He is noted for an unbroken span of forty-nine years in legislative service and is best remembered for serving as prime minister at the time of independence in 1975. Somare-led governments covered a total of seventeen years across three terms: 1975 80, 1982–85, and 2002–11 (Johnstone 2011). His departure comes after he was ignominiously removed from the prime minister's role in 2011 while receiving medical treatment in Singapore for an extended period of time. Somare was never quite able to regain his political stature after the constitutional crisis that ensued, during which both Somare and O'Neill were recognized as legitimate prime minister by various groups within government. The retirement of Sir Michael, the longest-serving politician by far, marks a changing of the guard in PNG politics as the country celebrated its 42nd anniversary of independence. Somare's departure was met in Parliament with the stately fanfare that would be expected for a man that is often hailed as the "Father of the Nation." After inspecting an honor guard, he was presented with songs, cultural dances, and speeches by leaders in the public and private sector (Zarriga 2017). Not all were pleased with his retirement, though. Prior to retirement ceremonies, supporters of the departing governor for East Sepik Province turned up at the provincial assembly "to demand their payments for various projects, activities and for their loyalty and unwavering support for Sir Michael during his distinguished political career" (Fito 2017).

The election cycle officially launched on 20 April, the first polling stations were to open on 26 July, and the writs were to be returned on or before 24 July. Campaigning for the 111 parliamentary seats (89 members and 22 governors) was underway immediately in April, as parliamentarians returned to their electorates to jockey for voters' favor and party leaders retreated to their various camps to determine policies, entice defections, and calculate ways to gain numerical ascendency for the next five years.

This was a particularly polarizing election as rhetoric was mostly directed for or against the incumbent government, led by Prime Minister O'Neill and the People's National Congress (pnc). The pnc set up base in Alotau while their leading challengers, a coalition of the National Alliance Party and the historic Pangu Party, established a camp in Kokopo. The...


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