An entry in The Crocodile Prize
PNG Chamber of Mines & Petroleum
Award for Essays & Journalism
WHAT really intrigued me about the June 2012 national elections which gave us our current parliament in Papua New Guinea was the way aspirant politicians emerged as candidates from the clans and tribes of rural electorates.
According to the election report, a record number of 3,435 candidates contested the 111 seats, the majority of which are based on rural areas.
The Electoral Commission and other groups undertook extensive awareness programs before the elections. These programs covered how elections work, the right of electors and candidates and the importance of elections. They also dealt with issues of good governance, corruption and related matters.
But there’s another kind of awareness. Aspirant politicians, to realise their aspiration for politics, need to manoeuvre family, clan, tribe and other formal and informal networks to get to a point where they can nominate and become candidates.
The electors nod in agreement to almost everything the aspirant politician has to say and offer. The assumption is that election awareness programs will fill gaps in the electors’ knowledge.
The most skilful aspirant politicians are former members of parliament. This group of people are experienced in making laws and debating policies at national level and should know election laws and processes better than other aspiring candidates.
The way they mobilise electors before writs are issued should conform to the ideals of elections in democracies and align with the spirit of election laws. They should set benchmarks consistent with modern election practice.
However, this has not been the case in their approach to elections nor is it evident in the campaign techniques they employ.
Former MPs are front runners in spending money on anything in the name of luring votes.
Electors go crazy when they see money. The shape, size and number of campaign houses throughout the electorate are manifestations of how much money these candidate have to spend.
The size, colour and frequency of billboards also reflect how much money these candidates are throwing around.
They want to keep themselves at par with the incumbent MPs campaign or even a step ahead. The race to spend, a race inside the race to be elected.
There are aspirant politicians who have worked in public and private sectors whose experience and leadership provide them with an excellent basis to contest elections.
And there are inexperienced junior public servants, recent university graduates, pastors, priests and community leaders who also join the race.
There are seasonal contestants, who believe that after a number of attempts they may be successful. The current member for Kerowaghi provides an inspiration for these people; he never stopped nominating from the 1980s until he finally won at the 2012 election.
Then there are the vote splitters who come around to contest elections with massive funding from current MPs to split votes and destabilise support for strong contenders.
The relationship between electors and candidates during election campaigns can be described as one of mutual deception.
The aspirant politicians take advantage of the electors’ lack of political knowledge and gullibility. They spend money to build campaign houses, provided meals for lazy electors and even give them money.
They promote a group of individuals with very little or no standing in the electorates to serve as members of campaign committee. Some of these people have never made a garden for their wife and often don’t even have a house in the electorate.
The candidates spend money in the electorate with high hopes that it will be enough to convince electors to vote for them.
The electors use the three preferences available to them in voting as a tool to feast on the growing number of aspirant politicians.
To electors, aspirant politicians are wealthy individuals who have visited the electorate to share their wealth.
So electors devise strategies that will make candidates spend money on them. They invent bedtime stories for aspirant politicians, compose songs for them and dream of the candidate’s victory.
Everyone will swear by the Bible to give the candidate their first voting preference. Such a promise is enough for the candidate to send for cartons of beer and slaughter the nearest pig, promising payment to the owner of the pig at a later date.
The election laws are silent about such campaign activities.
Where the laws do talk, candidates compete in the accepted Papua New Guinean way and do not raise the alarm for illegal campaign activities.
A few candidates with money for lawyers will, at the post-election court of election disputes, bring up illegal campaign strategies by the winner.
If PNG maintain the status quo, the amount of money candidates spend to lure votes will continue to increase, undermining the election process and the ideals of elections in democracies.