An entry in The Crocodile Prize
PNG Chamber of Mines & Petroleum
Essay & Journalism Award
I thought to myself the Sinasina Yongomugl electorate of Simbu Province now has a very highly educated person as their representative, so he will bring development to the electorate.
The whole of PNG developed different kinds of feelings for Nape during his second term leading up to the 2012 general election. Many labelled him as a conniving Speaker of the House who played a fundamental role in overthrowing the Somare-led regime. They focussed on the bad aspects of his leadership and drew their own conclusions.
A good number of his own Nimai tribesmen in the Sinasina Yongomugl district saw him as their saviour and a giver. Some called him the Nimai ninja and many other names that made sense to them.
The image they had of Nape cannot be easily deleted from their minds. They will never forget Jeffery ‘Santu’ Nape, former Speaker of the National Parliament and Acting Governor General.
Funny how things change in politics. In 2002 and 2007 all of us who were connected in one way or another to the Nimai tribe of Sinasina worked together to elect our very own tribesman. The joy of seeing Nape entering parliament for the first time in 2002 is hard to describe. For months the Nimai people chanted and sang quoting the winning number of votes - 6654.
Jeffery Nape polled those votes to unseat incumbent Ludger Mond. So from Yongomugl the seat was passed over to Sinasina.
As a young and energetic Year 12 student from Rosary Secondary School, I cannot remember the number of times I voted in the 2002 general elections. The boys from my clan including myself used lemon to wipe the purple ink from our fingers.
After wiping, we joined the line and used our strength to push our way towards the front of the polling booth. Once there, regardless of the name whether it was male or female, we just walked up and got a ballot paper and proceeded to the polling booth and voted for our candidate.
The lone Port Moresby mobile unit policeman with his M16 was powerless. He knew he was in a precarious situation. If he stopped us from multiple voting he could spark a violent outburst which could endanger his life.
Even though the polling booth was next to the Yoba Catholic church in Koge village, we had no sense of fear that we were doing was wrong, unethical and illegal. By all means we wanted our man Santu to win.
The name Santu is a common name which people in the electorate and those of us from Koge village use when referring to or addressing Nape. It is a Tok Pisin version of the word Saint. How he got that nickname is a mystery.
So for Jeffery ‘Santu’ Nape I voted numerous times in the 2002 general election. Whenever I read Electoral Commission advertisements about ‘one person, one vote’ my mind immediately goes back to that Yoba experience.
Like his successor, Kerenga Kua, Jeffery Nape was a business man based in Mt Hagen before he contested the 2002 general election for the first time. He had money and stacks of it. To me, Nape is the epitome of ‘neck politics’ or ‘nere tere’.
He well understood the psychology of a simple villager. Maybe his upbringing as the son of Nape Kupe, a former Sinasina local government President and Simbu Provincial Government Minister, influenced his election strategy. Regardless, from my point of view he was the hottest candidate.
Upon returning home from Mt Hagen in his red, four-wheeled drive Nissan Patrol station wagon, he gave K5 or K10 to people to purchase cigarettes, beer, biscuits, kerosene or whatever their needs of the day. People said the K5 and K10 notes were new and crisp and looked like they just came from the bank.
But they said Nape did not hold any K50 or K100 notes, making it easy for him to give money to any Tom, Dick or Harry he met on the road to Koge village.
During the 2002 and 2007 campaigns, the various gambling houses in Koge village were packed to capacity, the bets ranging from K20-K50.
Tales of his money-giving feats had an accelerating effect in the way the story passed from one person to another. Soon there were crowds of people lining the side of the road calling ‘Santu winman’,’ Santu winman’, ‘Santu winman’…..
A lot of people said; “Em win, em bai givim yumi moa yet, yupela kaikai na givim vote lo em” (‘If he wins he will give us more, so take the money and vote him’). They visualised Nape in Parliament before they went to the polls.
The money was not only given to Nape’s own Nimai tribesmen but to the Dingas, Tabares, Keres and other tribes making up the electorate. They all received something from Santu’s cookie jar.
This ‘neck politics’ or ‘nere tere’ logic is similar to the idiom ‘There is no such thing as a free lunch’. Those who got something from Santu felt obligated to vote for him. They traded their democratic right to choose for money.
Some of the people who got the money voted for him while others did not, but he was successful in establishing himself as a cult figure. He was no doubt adored by many.
This was demonstrated by the fact that, wherever people were when they heard that Nape’s vehicle was approaching, they dropped whatever they were doing and ran to the side of the road with anticipation that Santu would stop and give them something. The Sinasina people continued doing that until Nape was voted out in 2012.
When he was in office a lot of our tribesmen walked the Kokoda track to Port Moresby to see him in Morauta, the suburb where he lived. My cousin came and slept with me in my room at the University of PNG for months before he was given an airline ticket back to Simbu and some money for his efforts in the election victory. He told me in detail how they had walked the Kokoda track and the beauty of the flora and fauna.
Those who had money boarded the Lae to Port Moresby flight in search of Santu. They came; they saw and returned with their heads held high. The new jeans and Dunlop sandshoes they wore on the flight back played its part in strengthening the cult of ‘Santu the Giver’.
Santu gave money to each of the clans and sub-clans that make up the big Nimai tribe. The money was distributed equally among the different families. After the 2007 election victory, I got K200 from the chief of our clan.
Even though I did not vote because I was in Port Moresby studying, the effort of my family members in the village made it possible for me to benefit from the’ thank you money’.
As I sit back and look at what I did in the past, there are many things I regret but how can I turn back the hands of time. I know all of us have skeletons in our closet because we are human.
I have learnt a lot from these experiences and the type of leadership displayed by Nape. I respect Nape for his smartly designed election strategies. His smartness and tactics were again displayed on the floor of Parliament during the political impasse.
Is the strategy of showering money on eligible voters unlawful? Does it constitute bribery, which is a key element of corruption? Should PNG politicians and wannabe politicians refrain from such practices? These are questions I leave with you, the reader.
From what I heard the people are crying for Santu’s return because the incumbent has a different leadership style.
I have a strong feeling that come 2017, if no other prominent Nimai decides to compete against Santu then he will be in the running to reclaim his old seat. This prospect will be stronger if the people of Sinasina decide to cast what is called in Tok Pisin a ‘wari vote’ because they miss the free hand-outs he gave when he was at the helm.
The ‘wari vote’ was successful for former parliamentarians like Mathew Siune and the late Joe Mek Teine. These two gentlemen contested successive elections to no avail, finally their supporters and those who did not have a candidate in mind decided to vote them for their never say die approach.
We can idealise the perfect type of elections we want to have based on Western experience but it will never work out. The ‘one person, one vote’ slogan is all hot air; Papua New Guineans will continue to vote multiple times.
People of all ages will look past leadership credentials, party policies and religious backgrounds to vote for those candidates who can satisfy their need for money. No wonder money is the root of all evil.
The challenge now is to study the pork barrel nature of PNG politics and design a home grown voting system that will complement a PNG style democracy.