The Leaderboard: Peter O’Neill

Caretaker Prime Minister of Papua New Guinea, Peter O'Neill Source: Commonwealth Secretariat's flickr photostream, used under a creative commons license.

The Leaderboard profiles the people behind the policies of the Asia-Pacific. This post features Peter O’Neill, Papua New Guinea’s caretaker Prime Minister & Leader of the People’s National Congress Party.

Who is he?

Peter Charles Paire O’Neill is the caretaker prime minister of Papua New Guinea and is also leader of the People’s National Congress party. Before serving as caretaker prime minister, he held several ministerial positions including minister for labor and industrial relations, and minister for public service. O’Neill is currently the member of parliament for the Ialibu-Pangia electorate in the Southern Highlands. He received his education in accountancy and commerce from the University of Papua New Guinea.

Why is he in the news?

Peter O’Neill assumed power in December 2011 following a constitutional crisis that pitted the judiciary and legislature against each other in a conflict over whether O’Neill or former prime minister Sir Michael Somare was the rightful head of government. Most recently, O’Neill has been in the headlines as the first candidate to be declared a winner in the 2012 national elections, an announcement made before polling had even started in three provinces. He has overseen an election of mixed merits; although largely open, free, and peaceful, the electoral commission has been accused of using inaccurate and fraudulent electoral rolls. The People’s National Congress has already garnered significant support from non-affiliated members of parliament to form a government, including backing from Sir Michael Somare.

What can we expect from him?

If Peter O’Neill can woo enough independent members of parliament and form a government, we should expect him to prioritize domestic development, making foreign donors that improve infrastructure and create employment a significant part of his foreign policy. In light of this, existing U.S. private investment and aid programs focusing on environmental conservation and defense training should lay a positive foundation for bilateral relations. Although Papua New Guinea and the United States suffered from a disagreement in 2011 over the terms of the South Pacific Tuna Treaty, a compromise was reached during the June 22 negotiations. One can therefore expect that the treaty will be successfully renegotiated if O’Neill returns to office.


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