Melsol discusses its future

October 23, 1996

By Norm Dixon

Papua New Guinea's leading radical group, Melanesian Solidarity (Melsol), is under increasing pressure from its supporters to form a party committed to the country's poor, the group's national general secretary, Peti Lafanama, told Green Left Weekly during a recent visit to Sydney.

This pressure has become greater as PNG's mainstream politicians and parties have become discredited.

"Melsol is an organisation based among the masses and must remain an organisation of the people. We endorsed the idea that Melsol produce and popularise a political program at our 10th national congress last November", Lafanama said. Melsol has yet to decide whether it will form a party in time for the next election.

"The people are asking: 'Are you going to present some alternatives to the people?'. It looks like we have no choice but to come up with an alternative policy. This is the time to present a political program that represents the views and aspirations of Melsol. After Melsol creates its program, we may want to create something like a political party."

Melsol will take this program to the people. "We are trying to be open from the start, so we are getting views from other organisations. We want to try to get people to challenge our ideas and contribute to the process so that we can put in place something that will work."

Lafanama told Green Left Weekly that Melsol was formed among students in 1985 and has since developed a wide network throughout the country, with a broad support base.

For the first five years, Melsol agitated on campus for solidarity with the struggles of the Melanesian people in Kanaky and West Papua and liberation struggles in the Pacific as well as for social justice in PNG. Melsol then decided that its members should go back to the rural areas to organise and educate the people.

Melsol members got active in legal rights, environmental, women's and land-holder groups. Its activists are playing a central role in the fight against structural adjustment. "Now Melsol really is an organisation of the people", Lafanama stressed.

"Most of the political parties in PNG do not have a support base. Melsol has been agitating for social justice issues in the countryside, for democracy, a system that people can be part of. We want a party that people feel that they own, that is accountable and not something that belongs just to Melsol's leadership. Since independence 20 years ago, politicians only come around at election time. We don't want that sort of party."

Lafanama said that the government and media often define Melsol as a "leftist organisation", but the group avoids such labels. "We want to try to put in place a system unlike elsewhere, a system that can give back something to the people, a political set-up that can represent our identity. We want a political system that is more democratic, that is working for the people to create a future that is more just, not a system that is dominated by outside interests."

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