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03 September 2014


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Whilst this article raises valid remarks on the importance of having an opposition in parliament, I think it is essential to understand the true nature of the workings of the Opposition in the Westminster System.

Basically, as a traditional concept developed as part of parliamentary custom, the Opposition government is, in itself, a ‘government in waiting’.

The official Opposition is the party which represents the second largest: party; or group; in terms of elected members. In principle, the role of the official Opposition is to act as a government in waiting, ready at any time to take office should the government seek dissolution of parliament.

However, It must be noted that the government is not accountable to the Opposition but only to parliament and I see no law in Papua New Guinea or in other common law jurisdictions indicating otherwise.

The Opposition exists is to use Parliament as a forum to challenge the Government on its legislative proposals and its actions. The Leader of the Opposition and his members have the benefit of using parliament, when in sitting, to challenge executive acts and push forward questions to the government and its ministers for determination.
The executive is collectively responsible to parliament, not to the Opposition.

In Representative Government (1861), John Stuart Mill wrote of parliament:

Instead of the function of governing, for which it is radically unfit, the proper office of a representative assembly is to watch and control the government; to throw the light of publicity on its acts; to compel a full exposition and justification of all of them which anyone considers questionable; to censure them if found condemnable; and if the men who compose the government abuse their trust, or fulfil it in a manner which conflicts with the deliberate sense of the nation, to expel them from office, and either expressly or virtually appoint their successors.

The House of Commons is the sounding board of the nation – an arena in which not only the general opinion of the nation, but that of every section of it can produce itself in full light and challenge discussion.

In appreciating the authority of parliaments, one must understand that the functions of parliament may be summarized as being:

(a) to provide the personnel of government;

(b) to legitimize government actions; and

(c) to subject matters of public policy to scrutiny and influence.

Recent statements by former Attorney-General, Kerenga Kua, raising support towards a move to establishing a select committee to address the issue is pointless.

MPs have rights to freedoms of assembly and association. The supreme law of PNG allows its citizen to assemble themselves and associate to whomever or whatever they wish.

A democracy doesn’t allow for the fixation of MPs into either government or opposition benches, MPs choose where they belong.

If all members of parliament wish to be in Government benches, then it is a choice they make.

Again, it must be understood that all MPs, whether in Government or Opposition, are subject to party and political whips and tend to support whoever they deem to be their leader and to whichever party they chose to be aligned to, be it for reasons of political solidarity, ambition and self- preservation.

You decide.

So what we wanted was to do away with Somare's NA 'dictatorship' and install O'Neill's PNC 'dictatorship'.

We haven't moved very far. But what else is new.

Thank you Paul for your comment.

Yes, in the words of Machiavelli 'the ends justify the means'.

I see this as a challenge for PNG political thinkers to do more research in order to find a workable design capturing the vital elements of both traditional and contemporary political systems.

Hi Bernard,

your point is well made and could be summed up as: 'The end justifies the means'.

Peter O'Neill has been determined to have a 'government of national unity' ever since as Opposition Leader he was prepared to join Michael Somare in much the same manner as now except with Somare as leader.

The essence of difference between a democracy and a dictatorship has become somewhat blurred in many places. The real difference is how any government performs and then can be held accountable for their responsibilities.

Has PNG been better off under this form of government? Has there been less corruption or more? Are many of the PNG political leaders now more accountable and do they do what the voters want? Do the voters have real choices and alternatives that are supposed to happen in a modern pluralistic society?

If the answer is 'No!' then there's your answer.

You only have to look at the traditional PNG village to see where many PNG's political leaders grew up and get their inspiration from. That's where they are comfortable and so want to recreate that harmony of purpose instead of sustained argument and confrontation that the Westminster system promotes.

The real issue is one of design. The concept of a village council in PNG has worked well where everyone knows everyone and can see what is happening and can hold their Councillors individually responsible. They live among their own people and can easily accessed and challenged.

This village paradigm demonstrably can't work when the people lose contact with their elected leaders and only see them every five years at election times or when they come back to hand out 'government' money or equipment.

This form of government does however allow, when the opportunity presents itself, for personal gain at the expense of others. It also allows for the personal distribution of government funds and largesse as per the culture of the 'bikman'.

You should judge a person (read political leader, system or government) on what they do, not what they say.

Bal, China has proved that the alternative can work.

I concur with Minister Marape and Governor Parkop. Sometimes we need to think outside the box in order to find a way forward. Enough of looking at the world with a Western lense. The "A vibrant Opposition is critical for PNG" statement is Politics 101.

China has shown the world that a one-party state can transform a nation. That does not mean that there is no opposition in China. The Communist party has factions namely; the Princelings (decedents of the Revolutionaries), the Tuanpai (members of the Chinese Communist Youth League), the Shanghai gang (followers of Jiang Zemin) and the Tsinghua Clique (Tsunghua graduates). Xi Jingping is from the Princeling faction while Li Keqiang is from the Tuanpai faction.

In US foreign policy decision making, you have the Kissinger and Brzezinski factions. Both Harvard scholars have created schools of thought that are followed by their students.

The various factions pursue the principles that are fundamental to their view. Thus they do disagree with each other. Likewise, the various parties in the PNG government can form factions within government to influence decision making.

My point is factional politics can maintain the balance in the absence of an opposition. So my answer to the question is yes PNG can survive without an opposition but that will require major constitutional amendments and reforms.

But then again, are the parliamentarians serious in pursuing this path or is this trend reflective of the forces at play in this particular term of parliament?

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