Student protests: the missing Ingredients

By PNG Echo.

Student protestors in PNG with their den=mands
Student protestors in PNG with their demands

They say that those who don’t learn from history are doomed to repeat it. Here are a few historical lessons I’ve dug up for the protesting students of PNG to keep in mind.

What’s the issue?

On initial reflection, it seemed to me that the difference between the protests of the PNG students and other past student protests elsewhere in the world is that the PNG protests have been partisan and blatantly political, right from the word go – targeting one man, not even a government or a party and that’s not usual.

Be young and shut up - the advice of the soixante-huitards (students of 1968) to President de Gaulle
Be young and shut up – the advice of the soixante-huitards (students of 1968) to President de Gaulle

For even though the most famous of student riots – Paris 1968 – eventually adopted the slogan “adieu de Gaulle” (goodbye de Gaulle – the then French President) they had begun by a revolt against what the students considered to be outmoded and repressive rules – specifically that they could not have a member of the opposite sex in their dormitories. They wanted the right to have unbridled sex with each other.

The reasons for the French protests became very diffuse and were badly articulated. They were more an attempt at cultural and social revolution against the backdrop of a conservatively repressive government. They arguably succeeded in their cultural and social goals, but politically, they failed miserably.

When De Gaulle called an election in response, far from it being ‘adieu de Gaulle’ it was ‘bienvenue’ as he was returned with an even larger majority than before.

The lesson PNG students can take from this historical episode is that however noisy and disruptive they become, they should not assume that they are speaking for the majority, nor assume that others will follow their political lead.

…but wait…there is a precedent

Although not usual, there was a situation in 1992, in Brazil, that closely resembles the causes in PNG with the Brazilian students having a similar political demand

"Fora Collor" -Out Collor. The student demand for the impeachment of Brazilian President Fernando Collor de Mello
“Fora Collor” -Out Collor. The student demand for the impeachment of Brazilian President Fernando Collor de Mello in 1992

They called for their President’s impeachment after the President’s brother revealed a corruption scam in which the president was involved.

There followed a Commission of Inquiry the results of which were accepted on the floor of the lower house, that then referred the president to the Chamber of Deputies who progressed the charges to the Senate that then proceeded to hear the charges in an impeachment trial where the President of the Supreme Court was presiding officer.

But while the underlying reasons are similar, that’s where the similarities end.

You see, the whole of Congress was against the President – as was, apparently, the media (yes, a neutral media is indeed a myth – everywhere).

On the other hand, O’Neill has unprecedented political support and although the Prime Minister has been referred to the leadership committee in a situation similar to the President’s referral to the Senate Committee, this has yet to progress.

What’s more, the mainstream media is not campaigning against O’Neill and is generally considered to be sympathetic to him– although there is a very noisy social media backlash – mainly orchestrated by impotent political opponents.

But back to the Brazilian President:

He didn’t resign until the last day of the hearing (it’s a myth that every politician willingly falls on their sword), knowing he was losing the case and hoping to avoid the eight-year suspension penalty.

He didn’t avoid the suspension penalty and was impeached. Success, I hear you say, something to buoy the PNG students. Well…it was extremely limited.

When the, by then, former Brazilian President was later charged criminally, all charges were dropped as the prosecution couldn’t make the case and by 2006, he was back in the Brazilian Senate and in 2015, he’s again facing corruption charges.

The French have a saying: Plus ça change, plus c’est la même chose – the more things change, the more they remain the same. It’s something to think about.

The missing Ingredients

Prime Minister O'Neill - has responded more than adequately to the students' expressed issues.
Prime Minister O’Neill – has responded more than adequately to the students’ expressed issues.

The students have presented their issues to the Prime Minister and he has answered them, more than adequately. Now all they have left is a demand that he step down. Why? I may remind you that the prosecution has yet to establish that any crime has been committed – so he’s an accessory to what? The arrest warrant was always previous, cavalier and political.

Before the students continue with this campaign they’d do well to remember that the Prime Minister still retains the confidence and the backing of those with the power – including a large part of the electorate (that silent majority that the students claim to speak for).

The students no longer have any issues that are not partisan and blatantly political and, if history is any indication, to effect their political goals they are going to need more than a handful of desperate political wannabes and has-beens backing them.

It’s becoming more and more evident that the students’ latest efforts are nothing short of early election campaigning for political interests, at best, or a blatant use of their enthusiasm to effect an agenda that over ambitious vested interests have been unable to do at the polls, at worse

Plus ça change…


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10 thoughts on “Student protests: the missing Ingredients

  1. Paul Tiensten was jailed for just a footnote. Peter O’Neill did even worse by signing a letter directing the release of the muliti million kina to Paraka – and denied signing the letter, how childish was that. It is based on this letter that Peter O’Neill should be arrested.

    The truth is Peter O’Neill signed the letter and should be in jail with Paul Tiensten.

    That is what everyone wants to see.

    • I do believe he’s never denied signing it. You are making assumption; read what he has said. Besides, the courts have yet to decide whether a crime has been committed. If it hasn’t, what is O’Neill an alleged accessory to? This is a serious case of putting the cart before the horse. Paraka should be the target – not the PM. Oh yes, no on benefits politically from Paraka’s prosecution. Get my drift?

  2. You espouse the supremacy of numbers in Parliament but what would your response be to this scenario – A government, being hampered by myriad motions of no confidence, uses its numbers in parliament to amend the laws in such a way as to dictate as to how MP’s should vote on certain issues – that is parliament using its numbers to override the sovereignty of MP’s. Despite some strong criticism on this proposal it was passed twice by large majorities both times at meetings more than two months apart. The law had its desired effect, that is political stability but the price was parliamentary democracy at first and, once the offending sections were ruled as un-constitutional by the Supreme court, the door has been left open for any actions taken by governments in the interim as voidable. Political leaders, particularly those at the top must be as Caesar’s wife, if they are to maintain the integrity of government and they should be prepared to step down from any offices they hold once they have become implicated in any investigation relating to trust until they are cleared. To hang on to power as they are now doing is demeaning the offices which they hold, no matter what the numbers in parliament may say. PNG has really had enough of commentators apologising for the oft-called autocthonous government that is currently the sad fate of its citizens to have.

    • Happens all the time. I refer you to Mabo in Australia as an example of how to legislate away decisions of the courts. The system isn’t perfect – but it’s the best we have. On a re-reading of your comment, I fail to see how the sovereignty of MPs has been breached (if indeed MPs have any). As for the stepping down when only “implicated” it is the slippery slope to endless vexatious litigation by the politically ambitious but electorally bereft.

  3. The phrase I was trying to remember earlier was that the offending legislation unduly fettered the voting discretion of the said MP’s and was therefore found to be ultra vires. Senility is the problem here, Doctor, with me I mean.

  4. Not prepared to say what, Sinabada? – seems like you could be based in North Korea, using those sort of comments!

    • Peter Sandery, neither my name nor my title is Sinabada! Address me properly or not at all. In fact, make that not at all. I am not your plaything. You have too much time on your hands. All of your questions, your supposed discussion points are rhetorical. If you want to display your brilliance I suggest you use another platform. This is my last engagement with you. You are totally disingenuous.

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