NEIL ASHDOWN | Janes | Global Insight
THIS YEAR’S ELECTION was important for Papua New Guinea and the outcome appears to have been as positive as could be expected given the country's circumstances.
Security preparations paid off in an election that was peaceful by the country's standards.
A new government has been formed with the backing of the majority of parliament and with a clear, if ambitious, policy program.
One of the leading destabilising actors in Papua New Guinean politics, Belden Namah, has been excluded from government.
Yet at the same time, given the number of new MPs in parliament, and the obvious lure that being elected ahead of the LNG project start date, it is likely that more than a few of the new MPs regard their victory as a ticket to personal wealth.
These MPs – aware that the odds are not in their favour come 2017 – will be looking to get what they can in the meantime.
O'Neill may be intent on implementing real reforms for PNG but the realities of governance in the PNG political system could defeat this aim.
Moreover, the Namah-led opposition will at best be noisy and potentially disruptive as the new government goes ahead with its program.
It is unlikely that the election will resolve the underlying problems that have led to the deterioration in the rule of law and service provision in PNG since independence in 1975.
Nevertheless, there has been a tendency in the past for the depth of corruption to vary over time and between governments. Or to put it another way: while all governments in PNG are corrupt, some are more corrupt than others.
Looking ahead, PNG has come out of a period of political uncertainty with a new, unified, broad-based government. O'Neill and his partners have the potential to push the country in the right direction over the next five years.
Whether this will happen will depend primarily on the stability of O'Neill's coalition. Some observers are positive: blogger Tavurvur told us: "this coalition looks like it will be here for the long-haul", while a taxi driver in Moresby thought less than 18 months.
The basic problem is that the inability of the law to constrain the actions of politicians in Papua New Guinea mean that stability cannot be taken for granted.
A decisive shift in the balance of power could see a change of government take place even within the 18-month grace period. When this ends in February 2014 the risk of a challenge to O'Neill's position will escalate further.
O'Neill could well be the leader to overcome his country's fractious and self-interested politics and drive a genuine improvement in the quality of governance in PNG – but he would be bucking the historical trend if he did.