Oceania’s Political Institutions and Transitions

Jon Fraenkel

The Pacific Islands region includes entities closely incorporated with the metropolitan powers located around the Pacific Rim, such as Guam (USA), Rapa Nui (Chile) and Tokelau (New Zealand), as well as independent states like Papua New Guinea, Fiji and Kiribati. The region includes countries that achieved independence less than thirty years ago as well as those still in the process of adjustment to the post-colonial order. It includes resource-rich territories with strong potential for integration into the world economy alongside chronically resource-poor countries with limited avenues for export-driven economic growth. It includes territories with open access to metropolitan labour markets, and countries without. It includes an extraordinary ethno-linguistic diversity, mostly in Melanesia, which alone accounts for one-fifth of the world’s documented living languages. It includes relatively big nations like PNG (6.6 million) alongside tiny micro-states like Niue, which has a population of only 1,500, and minute dependent territories like Pitcairn Island with only 45 inhabitants.

Of the 9.7 million people who inhabit the 551,500 km2 land area of Oceania, just over two-thirds are in PNG. Classical political science questions have been addressed in strikingly different ways across the region—whether to accommodate ethnic diversity through unitary, devolved or federal systems; whether to handle conflict through majoritarian or proportional electoral systems and/or through power sharing arrangements, and whether to adopt parliamentary or presidential systems or, as in Kiribati and in the autonomous region of Bougainville, some hybrid between the two. Other important questions for the region have been how to meld traditional forms of governance with imported institutions; how to respond to exceptionally low levels of women’s representation and how to build states in countries where—for many who live in rural areas and engage largely in subsistence cultivation—the state matters little.

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Journal Article
Submitted by Toksave
March 22, 2021
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