TESS NEWTON CAIN |
PNG rocked by sudden death of Deputy Prime Minister
Just as Papua New Guinea heads into an election campaign, the country was rocked by the sudden death of Deputy Prime Minister, Sam Basil. Mr Basil was killed in a terrible road traffic accident last week, whilst travelling in his electorate in the north of the country. The accident also claimed the life of Mr Basil’s security officer and a further two people were critically injured.
Sam Basil was a high-profile figure in PNG politics and was the leader of the United Labour party. He was considered by some analysts to be a Prime Ministerial hopeful. Mr Basil was farewelled with a state funeral on Monday.
After some ‘confusion’ the Governor-General proceeded with the issue of writs for the 2022 elections on Thursday evening. The Electoral Commissioner, Simon Sinai, has announced that the nomination of candidates will be delayed slightly but will commence this week.
Solomon Islands ministers meet with regional colleagues
Late last week two members of the Solomon Islands’ government met with representatives of Pacific Islands Forum members. The Foreign Minister, Jeremiah Manele, and the Minister for Police, Anthony Veke, travelled to Suva. The purpose of their visit, as flagged by Prime Minister Sogavare, was to explain and contextualise the recently signed security agreement between Solomon Islands and China.
At the request of Solomon Islands, the Pacific Islands Forum Secretariat convened “tok stori” dialogue event which allowed for some participants to join virtually. The participants were mainly officials, although some political leaders participated.
A short press release from the Forum Secretariat further to this meeting notes that some members used the opportunity to raise their own concerns about regional security.
It is expected that this issue will be discussed further at the forthcoming meeting of Pacific Islands Forum Leaders.
Tongan Parliament derailed by court decisions
In Tonga, the Supreme Court has ruled on several cases in which Parliamentarians have been accused of bribery during the country’s elections of last year. This has seen the unseating of three members of the Cabinet, including Deputy Prime Minister Poasi Tei. In total, four MPs have lost their seats because the Court found them guilty of bribery. The MPs have the right to appeal these decisions, but they are automatically unseated. Bye-elections have been announced although no dates have been set.
Given the loss of members, plus the absence of others, the Parliament may not be able to achieve a quorum. This comes as the budget is expected to be handed down next month.
The cases have been controversial in Tonga, with some questioning whether rules related to ‘treating’ during election campaigns are at odds with Tongan custom and practice in relation to gift-giving.
Foreign policy debate as Australian election date nears
In the lead-up to the Australian elections, the National Press Club held a foreign policy debate. The speakers were the current Minister for Foreign Affairs, Senator Marise Payne and the Opposition spokesperson, Senator Penny Wong.
Australia’s relationships in the Pacific featured heavily. Senator Wong reiterated the Labor party’s proposal to seek to co-host COP27 with Pacific island countries. Senator Payne said that this is something a Coalition government would discuss with the Pacific. This differs from what we heard previously from her colleague Angus Taylor who dismissed the idea.
Solomon Islands’ security agreement with China is less of a hot topic than it was a couple of weeks ago, but it has not gone away. Senator Wong said that should Anthony Albanese be the Prime Minister come May 24th that this will be something he would seek to discuss at the Quad leaders’ meeting.
Tess Newton Cain is an Adjunct Associate Professor at the Griffith Asia Institute and project lead of the Pacific Hub.