Elections In PNG Are Crazy! To Say The Least.

Papua New Guinea has its own version and definition of democracy. I think most people in PNG have no idea of what a government is and what its role is. June 2007 will be the national elections in PNG so I thought I should share some of my thoughts on elections in PNG.

Elections in PNG are the craziest in the world I think. I know that in the highlands of PNG (where I come from) people literally go mad. People get killed. Houses are destroyed. Family ties are broken. And even all out tribal wars can erupt.

This year there are nearly 3000 candidates for 109 seats in parliament! Unbelievable. A person who was arrested for cargo cult practises in the Morobe provice has been allowed to run for elections. The chances are he might probably win and get into parliament because he had a lot of following. And this guy hired a private lawer to defend him in court. Mind you, private lawers in PNG do not come cheap. Or anywhere for that matter.

Buying of votes in PNG is a recognised phenomenon. Honestly, candidates buy votes. Not for campanining but for buying votes. During the campaigning period, large sums of money will be given to villagers, IN CASH! They are saying, “if you get this money, your vote belongs to me”. The sad thing is, this has become a norm in PNG societies during or leading up to elections. It’s an election/campaign culture now in PNG. It’s now accepted as a normal thing to do. When there is poverty and people need money for their immediate needs, those with money have the power and influence over those who don’t. It has been said that ‘the love of money is the root of all evil’ but maybe we should also recognise that ‘the lack of money is also the root of all evil’.

Election times in PNG are also a high risk period. I wanted to go for vacation but I have decided to wait until the elections are over.

After the elections there will be the usual allegations of bribery (which actually happens) and compromising of ballot boxes and papers (which also happens). The losing candidates would go to court and after 2 years or so the election results would be declared null and void. Then a by-election will be called for. So another year of waiting for funds for the by-elections would ensure. A by-election would follow and before the losing candidate would again go to court to appeal the by-election results, the national elections would be around the corner. The national elections arrives and the whole process starts all over again.

The term of a parliamentarian in PNG is 5 years. So 2 years of appeals plus 1 year of waiting takes up 3 years followed by another appeal of the by-election, to make a total of 4 years. That leaves 1 funtional year in parliament for an MP. What can an MP do in 1 year in parliament?

The cycle is: national elections-appeals(sometimes appeals of the appeals)-by-elections-appeals-national elections. Its crazy! To say the least.

This year a new system of voting – limited preferencial voting – will be used. Already there is confusion about this new system. There have been calls to boycott the elections due to lack of awarness and education of villagers about this new system of voting. In the past, first-past-the-post system was used. Photos of candidates have also been removed from the ballot papers! How can illiterate villagers know who to vote for if there is no pictures of the candidates on the ballot papers? They can easily be tricked into voting for the wrong person!

I am waiting to see what the outcome of the 2007 PNG national elections will be.


About rodney itaki

Medical doctor and public health specialist from Papua New Guinea.
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