Griffith Asia Institute Featured Publication
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Written by Dr Jack Corbett

Politicians everywhere tend to attract cynicism and inspire disillusionment. They are supposed to epitomize the promise of democratic government and yet invariably find themselves cast as the enemy of every virtue that system seeks to uphold.

In the Pacific, “politician” has become a byword for corruption, graft, and misconduct. This was not always the case–the independence generation is still remembered as strong leaders–but today’s leaders are commonly associated with malaise and despair. Once heroes of self-determination, politicians are now the targets of donor attempts to institute “good governance,” while Fiji’s 2006 coup was partly justified on the grounds that they needed “cleaning up.”

But who are these much-maligned figures? How did they come to arrive in politics? What is it like to be a politician? Why do they enter, stay, and leave? Drawing on more than 110 interviews and other published sources, including autobiographies and biographies,Being Politicalprovides a collective portrait of the region’s political elite. This is an insider account of political life in the Pacific as seen through the eyes of those who have done the job.

We learn that politics is a messy, unpredictable, and, at times, dirty business that nonetheless inspires service and sacrifice. We come to understand how being a politician has changed since independence and consider what this means for how we think about issues of corruption and misconduct. We find that politics is deeply embedded in the lives of individuals, families, and communities; an account that belies the common characterization of democracy in the Pacific as a “façade” or “foreign flower.”

Ultimately, this is a sympathetic counter-narrative to the populist critique. We come to know politicians as people with hopes and fears, pains and pleasures, vices and virtues. A reminder that politicians are human–neither saints nor sinners–is timely given the wave of cynicism and disaffection. As such, this book is a must read for all those who believe in the promise of representative government. —

Jack Corbett joined Griffith in 2014 as a Research Fellow. His research interests include political leadership and biography in the Pacific Islands, anti-politics and democratic disenchantment; democratization and development; the politics of small island states; development policy and administration; and interpretive research methodologies. Jack completed his PhD in 2012 at The Australian National University (ANU). His first book book, based on his dissertation, was published in 2015 with The University of Hawaii Press. Jack has a series of articles published or forthcoming with journals such as Comparative Political Studies, Journal of European Public Policy, The Pacific Review, Democratization, and Politics and Gender. Prior to his move to Griffith, Jack spent 18 months as a Postdoctoral Fellow at ANU where he taught Pacific politics. From 2008-2010 he worked as an Adviser in the Department of the Prime Minister and Cabinet.