IF ONE STARTS TRYING TO CONNECT the dots, recent articles by various Papua New Guinean writers provide a fresh perspective on PNG electioneering. For outsiders looking in, we ought to try to understand what is on the inside.
In many places, elections are a time for joyous celebration. Candidates vie for votes by trying to outdo each other in public displays of wealth distribution – a clear demonstration of Melanesian culture.
The wealth given away by candidates comprises cash, soft drinks (since beer is illegal in some places), and of course, pigs.
Reciprocal gift giving has been taken to a new height with the proliferation of money and material goods. Candidates are showered cash donations and with gifts of hundreds of pigs.
How can those who receive this wealth expect to repay it, since an MP’s salary cannot possibly reimburse what has been spent?
Where does a successful or unsuccessful candidate get the means to repay the gifts given by supporters?
If you live in rural PNG as a member of a clan with no real opportunity of advancing or changing your circumstances, what do you do? Celebrate when and where you can at someone else’s expense, or not get involved? What do you have to lose?
For unsuccessful candidates, losing means a big loss of face (sem), yet if everyone has a great time perhaps that aspect might be overlooked.
The important factor is that everyone recognises their obligation to support their own candidate irrespective of whether that person is able to operate effectively as a Member of Parliament.
Years ago, government employees used to take turns at collectively spending their combined pay packets. One fortnight, someone would have a great time spending everyone’s pay but be poor until their turn came around again.
The euphoria of being able to have a great time was obviously more important than spreading an income evenly over the time it was meant to cover.
So has the day of the dinau (loan) disappeared? It is reported that short term cash loans are an increasing drain on limited pay packets in PNG as interest accrues at frightening speed.
Who cares if your local candidate hasn’t a clue of what to do if he is elected. What does it matter if every candidate is saying much the same thing. The important factor is that clan and tribal loyalties have been adhered to.
So why would anyone expect any change in a future national government? After all, it’s another five years down the track to another great time and everyday people don’t have real power to force or expect the government to do anything.
Perhaps the only power people have is to be seen to support their own clansman and enjoy the moment?