TUMBY BAY - In Australia and in other parts of the world there seems to be a monumental power struggle going on between the political forces of the right and the political forces of the left.
If you believe the pundits it’s an urgent existential struggle that will determine the very survival of our planet.
The terminology has been subtly changing too. We are now openly calling the political right ‘conservatives’ and the political left ‘progressives’.
In simple terms the battle that is raging is between people who not only want to preserve the status quo but take us back to what they see as the halcyon days of the past and people who are saying those ideals don’t cut it anymore and the world needs a new political and social model if it is going to survive.
This is all heady stuff and it’s hard for the average person to work out where they stand in the struggle. Or if they want a position at all. Many people seem to have given up and buried their heads in the sand.
As the constant barrage rings out on televisions, radios and websites, there is a gathering sense of impending doom. It is as if the end of days is imminent.
As respite and as a diversion, I’ve taken to watching old movies and reading books well out of print.
Last night I watched John Ford’s classic 1939 movie ‘Drums Along the Mohawk’ about the American war of independence.
The night before I was reading Chinua Achebe’s 1958 novel ‘Things Fall Apart’ about the impact of colonialism on Nigeria.
I’m not burying my head in the sand, I just think it’s wise to take a breather every now and again for the sake of one’s sanity.
In the process of exploring some of this old literature and drama it occurred to me that this idea of a left and right, a conservative side and a progressive side in society is by no means new or unusual.
It is a concept that has always existed at the family level, the clan and tribal level and the national level.
Those elders who resisted colonialism in places like early America, Africa and Papua New Guinea, strangely enough, had much in common with the conservatives who are reverting to isolationism and protectionism in the present time.
No one called them right wing hardliners or terms like that but that’s what they were.
In contrast, those young firebrands who enthusiastically embraced the new way of life brought by the missionaries and colonial officers had much in common with the progressives who are now calling for action on climate change, a rethink of our financial systems and rights for various minorities.
This is all pretty simplistic. The real situation is decidedly more complex.
However, if you look at it all in those terms it becomes apparent that there is merit in both sides of the political spectrum.
In Papua New Guinea we constantly hear people calling for the re-establishment of traditional values as a panacea for the woes brought by modernism.
This argument has a lot going for it, even if it is a conservative or right wing view.
At the same time there are people who are appalled by how traditions like the bigman and wantok cultures have been subverted and are calling for their abolishment and a re-education of the people.
That argument also has a lot going for it.
If you put the two together you have what is called a centrist view. A little bit of the left and a little bit of the right. People are now talking about this compromise position as the ‘sensible centre’.
So where does the current Papua New Guinean government sit? Is it right wing, left wing or centrist?
It’s not a question that’s been asked much before.
Michael Somare’s first government might have been labelled left wing by the Australian government at the time but apart from its involvement in the independence movement its policies were generally those normally associated with a centrist government.
Successive governments were also difficult to pin down but were also mostly accepted as conservative because of their preoccupations with the economy over broader social issues.
The missing element over all this time was something with which to compare it. There has never been, until now, an effective opposition with a clear political agenda.
I think the current opposition in Papua New Guinea under the leadership of people like Bryan Kramer and Gary Juffa could be accurately labelled as left wing, or at the very least centrist.
In any event it offers a fairly stark contrast to Peter O’Neill’s decidedly conservative outfit.
Perhaps through its extreme incompetence and corruption the O’Neill government has done Papua New Guinea a favour by causing an opposition to grow and mature.
Is this important or am I just playing with semantics or trying to foist a western take on what has been to date an unusual political arrangement?
I don’t think so. To me this development portends a potential maturing of politics in Papua New Guinea.
Finally, after great cost to the country as a whole, a portion of its political class seems to be growing up.
In this sense I think the present changes are highly significant.
And if they continue to develop by providing a substantial role for women in the national parliament (at present all 111 members are male), the process of maturisation will accelerate.