the Bougainville model

There is a second exception to political instability in the South Pacific, which I thought should be mentioned.

The Autonomous Region of Bougainville, population approximately a quarter of a million, is a federacy of PNG. An independence referendum is due before 2020. Bougainville has its own executive, legislature and courts. The region went through an extended and bitter conflict with the national government over mining and land ownership issues between 1990 and 2005. Autonomy emerged from a peace agreement brokered by New Zealand and the Pacific Islands Forum. The history is tragic:

Bougainville has remained peaceful for a dozen years. Peace was negotiated following a decade-long war that is estimated to have caused approximately 2,000 deaths and possibly ten times as many more due to lack of services (Braithwaite et al. 2010).
The then province of Papua New Guinea fell from its top rank to the bottom in terms of per capita income and other social indicators of development among the 19 provinces.


The autonomous region has much broader powers than PNG provinces. The national government retains a defined list of powers and Bougainville anything not on that list is a function of the autonomous region. The regional constitution emerged from an inclusive process assisted by international mediators and experts. It is very different from the PNG constitution and other Pacific constitutions.

The president is popularly elected and automatically has a seat in the house of representatives.

The members of the executive council must be members of the Bougainville house of representatives. Some members of the executive council are regional representatives. Each is appointed in consultation with the members of the house of representatives for a subregion within the autonomous region. There is a similar provision a woman appointed in consultation with the women members of the house. Any member of the council can be dismissed by the president.

The president and all members of the  house of representatives can be recalled. The vice-president is appointed and dismissed by the president.

While the constitution does state that the executive council is responsible to the house of representatives and through the house to the people, (Section 85(2)(a)) there is no provision for a vote of no confidence.

The removal provision reads:


(1) Subject to Subsection (2), the President ceases to hold office on the assumption of office by a new President following an election of President under Section 89 (election of President) or Section 90 (special election of President).

(2) The office of President becomes vacant if the President –

(a)        dies;  or

(b)        resigns by written notice to the Speaker;  or

(c)        ceases in accordance with Section 91(2) (qualifications for and disqualifications from election as President) to be qualified to stand for election as President;  or

(d)        is dismissed from office as President under the provisions of Part 13 (Leadership Code); or

(e)        is recalled in accordance with Section 58 (recall of members of the House of Representatives); or

(f)         is or becomes of unsound mind within the meaning of any law relating to the person and property of persons of unsound mind;  or

(g)        has been declared bankrupt by a court of competent jurisdiction and remains bankrupt.

Part 13 provides for misconduct in office to be prosecuted before the Bougainville high court by the Bougainville ombudsman or the independent public prosecutor. No president has been removed or recalled.

Since the peace agreement Bougainville has regained about 40% of the per capita income it had when the war broke out. The region has considerable mineral resources, including the largest copper deposit on the planet.

Should the independence referendum pass, Bougainville will be the first nation with an incontestably presidential system in Oceania, although Madison’s eyebrows could possibly reach orbit were he confronted with an executive president and cabinet who also sit in the legislature.





10 thoughts on “the Bougainville model

  1. Assuming you mean James Madison, didn’t he keep executive officers out of the legislature as a means of preventing the “corruption” of the payroll vote? In his defense, responsible government was only invented the previous winter.*

    Are there any provisions on what happens if the assembly refuses to grant supply to the president (or some other practical expression of no confidence*)?

    *An obscure Simpsons reference. But as I understand things, Lord North’s downfall in 1781 was the precedent that a ministry could not survive in the face of no confidence in Commons. I’m not sure how long it took for No Confidence to become a solidified weapon beyond clearly refusing to pass the government’s agenda–a set of tools that would presumably still be available in Bougainville.

    • The executive appears to be proofed against a refusal of supply. The constituent assembly lacked all enthusiasm for repeating the experience of the national government with the Westminster system.

      (1) If at the beginning of the fiscal year the House of Representatives has not made provision for public expenditure by the Autonomous Bougainville Government, the Autonomous Bougainville Government may, without authorization other than this section but in accordance with a Bougainville law, expend amounts appropriated for expenditure out of the Bougainville Consolidated Revenue Fund for the purpose not exceeding in total one third of its budgeted expenditure during the immediately preceding fiscal year.
      (2) The authority conferred by Subsection (1) lapses when the House of Representatives has made provision for the public expenditure for the fiscal year in question, and any amounts expended by virtue of Subsection (1) are a charge against the expenditure so provided for and shall be properly brought to account accordingly.

      Lord North was dismissed by George III for his unwillingness to continue the attempt to reconquer the United States, Bagehot:

      But in the so-called Government of Lord North, George III. was the Government. Lord North was not only his appointee, but his agent. The Minister carried on a war which he disapproved and hated, because it was a war which his sovereign approved and liked. Inevitably, therefore, the American Convention believed the King, from whom they had suffered, to be the real executive, and not the Minister, from whom they had not suffered.

      The consensus of scholars is that collective ministerial responsibility did not develop in Britain until the 1830s. Canadians have been known to argue, with some justice, that responsible developed in Canada before Britain. On one famous occasion in 1832, in a show of frightfully bad form, William IV was hissed in the house of lords because they blamed him, not the Whig prime minister, for the dissolution he was there to grant. (It may not be an accident that William was the last sovereign to personally attend parliament in order to dissolve it.)

      As late as 1911, George V’s diary shows that he believed he could, against ministerial advice, veto legislation and decline to create new peers. In 1932 George VI came very close to refusing advice from the prime minister of Australia to appoint Sir Isaac Isaacs as governor-general.

    • There is one special constituency for each of the three regions in Bougainville. Women elected in other constituencies are consulted as well. There is a similar arrangement of 3 regional constituencies for former combatants in the war, but that ends when the House decides or at latest when the independence referendum happens.

  2. Unusual form of Presidentialism with the elected President and cabinet having seats in the Assembly. Can the President dissolve the assembly or is it a fixed term legislature or one with extra elections to resolve deadlocks? Are the Presidential elections held concurrently or at different times with the assembly?

  3. Bougainville voted by 98.31% for independence. They still have to negotiate with the central government, but that kind of majority is hard to ignore.

  4. I’d forgotten about this Bougainville planting (sounds like a vine I had at various residences when I lived in southern California!). Unlike many other blogs, F&V comment threads (almost) never close. Thanks, Alan, for the update. While I was aware a referendum had been held, I might not have remembered to look for results.

    Above, Alan, you refer to the Bougainville constitution as “an incontestably presidential system”. But if the president is also a member of the assembly, and there is a provision on “responsibility” (even though it is evidently not defined), I suppose the classification could be contested.

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