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12 October 2016

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The press in any democracy plays an important role to shape society and help voters choose their leaders carefully. It can make or break a person. That’s why the pen is seen as a powerful weapon.

Just look at how the powerful American press is exposing past deeds of a presidential candidate and a rich and powerful person like Donald Trump.

The press in PNG is fragile. It cannot report like the American, British or Australian press. Corrupt leaders will continue to thrive and appear to the world as if everything is alright in PNG.

Just imagine for a while which leaders would return after next year’s national elections if a powerful press exposed all their past actions/deeds of current MPs. How did they handle issues like corruption, poor governance, misappropriation, equality, child abuse, sex abuse, literacy, health, theft, illegal guns, etc.. ?

Is it hard for the mainstream press in PNG to take up the challenge now and help our people vote in good leaders next year?

Every 5 years I see the same process happening and the same results reoccurring. With all the best will in the world, can someone please tell me what parts of the paradigm have actually changed and give instances where they will have significant effects of the inevitable results?

Those who have the power and influence now haven't thrown in the towel. The gains are too great. If they haven't already done so, they are even now organizing where they will meet and how they will get sufficient numbers of expectant newly elected MP's together to give them government by dividing up the spoils.

The government jets and taxpayers transport will take these expectant new MP's thirsting for loot to meet at a select location and enough of those who can be bought will be bought by those in power now and with the ability to make it happen yet again.

If there were going to be any change in the process there would have been signs of it developing already.

What signs could we look for given the set methodology that seems to go with this sort of political development?

Firstly, the arrival of an effective leader who can and does organise and an overarching political movement that appeals to a cause that transcends traditional tribal loyalties and can resist those who are in power now. Can that happen in today's PNG? If not, 'sori tumas'.

Then there's the other way of organising a take over by stealth. Plans are made and set in operation to subvert the election process and arrive at a result without most really knowing or understanding what is going on. Surely that is exactly what's happened in recent previous elections?

Turn your back on history and you are doomed to repeat it. That's not cynicism, that's reality. All the best will in the world will in fact change nothing.

Phil, I have never heard of a born again politician in parliament. All the seemingly good guys also join the crowd of no goods, except for a very few like Garry Juffa.

In the highlands we have a phenomenon that comes around every election time. Its called Nere Tere in the south Simbu tokples. It means "I eat, then I vote for you". It's a misapplication of the highlands bigman ways of handling power.

Now businessmen play huge amounts of money and the hundreds of parties they make for their voters have seen thousands of kina worth of pigs and frozen goods.

The people since the introduction of the limited preferential system, can roam from one campaign house to the next.

And the candidates allow it, unlike years back when the first past the post system was used, when tribal feuds can arise when supporters change allegiance.

I strongly believe our people have come to realise the bad side of politics especially after the last two regimes, that of Somare getting worse during O'Neill's term.

I believe there has been enough lessons and that we will see some changes in voting pattern in 2017.

This will not be an answer to our ongoing problems at the polls and in choosing good leaders but we will make progress.

It would be interesting to test how accurate my scenario is Keith. I wonder what readers think.

My impression is that the potentially good candidates don't bother to stand because they know they will not win. They know that every time they will be beaten by the candidates doling out largesse. And if they do try bribing voters there goes their credibility. Thus mostly only crooked candidates run.

And the odds are that even a good successful candidate will be corrupted once they get into parliament. You have to be bloody tough to avoid that, something like Gary Juffa.

The other side of that is that many of the candidates who resort to bribery and corruption who end up in parliament might still be turned around. I think we have witnessed that happening in PNG a couple of times.

A sad reflection on realpolitik that most nations appear to be suffering under.

Does it mean that democracy has failed us? But is there a better alternative?

Here in UK we had a referendum on adopting a non-first past the post method of electing our MPs. It failed miserably; both major parties opposing it. One political commentator sarcastically explained “Only two nations use the alternative system – Australia,” and he sort of giggled when he added, “Papua New Guinea!!”

Yet in UK both major parties don't use 1st-past post (FPP) to elect their leaders.

Any vacancy in House of Lords caused by death of a Hereditary Lord doesn't use FPP.

The London Mayors does not use FPP.

The elections to Assemblies in Scotland, Wales and N. Ireland don't use FPP and the D'Hondt system to elect, actually appoint, minority members to them is quite mind boggling and I conducted a poll of friends and family after our last devolved elections and not one could explain how UKIP had no elected Assembly members in Wales but had six 'allocated' AMs.

The EU elections too are some sort of D'Hondt system.

The result is in the UK we have Tory PMs and MPs regularly spouting, “We achieved the nation's mandate to make this.....policy” Actually they achieved a mere 37% of votes cast. UKIP had over 3 million votes and got one MP while Scottish nationalist polled less votes but have over 50 MPs. Is that democracy in action?

This reminds me of 'taim-bipo' after FPP elections when PNG MPs claimed the same '”Ol manmeri bilong ples bilong mi meikim mi memba bilong ol!” Yet they had won a FPP majority with less than 10% of votes cast.

I had high hopes of the alternative voting system for PNG when it was reintroduced. It failed in 1972 apparently because of too many spoilt votes were caused by voters not filling every box with the number of his or her preferences.

Under the new system we did see some MPs for life and/or Haus-lain MPs defeated...But wow! Look at the bunch who won using an apparently more democratic method.

It is apparent that far too many candidates are enticed not to serve but to get their snouts into the trough. Far to regularly they hear tales or read of million kina scams by the sitting MPs.

Partially to blame is the lack of transparency in accounting for the annual K10 or is K15 million which an MP can manipulate in his electorate for 'development'. The poorly devised system allows them to keep on misusing the funds because they do not publicly have to declare where the money has been spent.

Why is there no rule that each MP must regularly publish information updates on expenditure of public monies. It should be mandatory for each constituency or at least province to publish a Gazette providing such details. As well there should be no further funding without full acquittal of previous allocations.

Finally I must comment on the continued instructions by Electoral Commission, “It is illegal to conduct early campaigning by candidates!” Yet just yesterday the daily newspapers reported:

1 Usino Budi MP gave K155000 to launch a so-called 'Community Association' and K89000 for roofing iron to churches.

2 Kairuku-Hiri MP made commitments of K60000.

When I announced my candidacy for the New Ireland Assembly the Premier-in-waiting Pedi Anis said, “Arthur you haven't done any campaigning!”

I told him that for fourteen years I had lived with the people of South Lavongai; attended feast and funerals; worshipped with them and been a lay-preacher for them.

They knew my family life too. I was elected with the minimum of campaigning that definitely saw no handouts.

Today what new honourable candidate can compete with the largesse of a sitting MP? Perhaps it is only a multi-millionaire like Trump who can attempt to take on the establishment fat cats. Would he make a good president?

Should leadership be the preserve of the rich as in pre-industrial Britain? After all the source of wealth of some of the past leaders for quite a lot of nations would not bear scrutiny.

At least in the short term it seems personal greed will win out no matter what system we choose to elect our representatives.

The only way to achieve better leadership is a long term effort to educate the masses to a much average higher standard; providing economic opportunities for all to achieve for themselves and families and essentially overcome a human inherent greed with a return to personal accountable morality.

My old friend, onetime boss, MP, Lavongai Council Chairman, TIA President Walla Gukguk told me 40 years ago:

A leaders must have three qualities:

1 Savi Bilongen Knowledge.
2 Fasin Bilongen How he/she treated other people.
3 Sindaun Bilongen A respectable personal life.

Those are still the three qualities of a leader.

The following is an extract from a book by Paul Foot entitled The Vote - How it was won and how it was undermined (2005)

"Capitalism and democracy are always in conflict, and the history of all capitalist states that have conceded universal suffrage has been, in part at least, a history of that conflict. The case against capitalism, and for a democratic socialist society to replace it, appears stronger today than when the vote was first granted to most people almost 100 years ago.
Yet the sad fact is that in those years most left wing governments have done little or nothing to achieve their objective, which is to use the power given them by the franchise to represent organized workers and to close the gap between the rich and the working class.
Traditionally, left wing MPs used to apologise for this failure. Now they boast about it".

Paul Foot was the son of Hugh Foot and nephew of Michael Foot, who was a formidable socialist.

One of Michael's famous quotations reads "Men of power have no time to read; yet men who do not read are unfit for power" His favourite authors were Michel de Montaigne and Jonathan Swift.

Here's a typical PNG scenario facing voters in an electorate.

There are 12 candidates. None of them have articulated a single policy on any significant matter. All they have done is hand out goodies to prospective voters and promised more to come if they are elected.

The sitting member has bought real estate in Cairns and a house in Port Moresby. He spends most of his time in Moresby and only visits home when there is an election.

It would be like having the choice of 12 Pauline Hanson clones in Australia as candidates.

The voter knows that if he or she votes for any one of them they will make absolutely no difference to the run down electorate with its lack of services and infrastructure.

What should they do?

Vote or go home in disgust?
_________

It's florid, but is this really typical? Twelve crooks out of 12? There will be some very good candidates come May next year. Better advice surely is to find out who's who in the zoo, identify the acceptable ones and recruit savvy people in the electorate to support them and to spread the word. Then vote - KJ

I agree with most of Phil's comments, which appear to have more or less universal application across the democratic world. Also, I believe that we do indeed get the politicians we deserve.

Simply not voting is a cop out. It guarantees that the politician most adept at catering for the lowest common denominator wins. Donald Trump is relying upon this in the current US Presidential contest.

A more useful approach is to vote tactically. Many people are now doing this.

In terms of candidate choice, a voter can be confident that any person nominated by a major party has been so hopelessly compromised by the process of gaining party preselection that he or she is incapable of exercising his or her independent judgement on any critical issue.

Consequently, voting for a fully independent candidate is a more rational choice provided, of course, the voter is confident that the person is not a special interest "nutter" or otherwise suspect.

In Australia, the main aim is to ensure that the major political party in office is severely constrained in what it can do. The key tactic is to ensure that the Senate is not controlled by the party in office, thus forcing it to negotiate all contentious or ideological driven legislation.

Australian voters have achieved this outcome consistently for many years and, in fact, recent major party collusion to change the rules to prevent such an outcome have been thwarted by canny voters, who know a self interested power grab when they see one.

Alas, PNG lacks both voters with much in the way of tactical nous, plus it has the dreadful unicameral system we and the founding fathers unwisely foisted upon them at independence, which prevents tactics such as those described above.

With the benefit of hindsight, it would have been smarter to persuade the founding fathers to accept a federal type structure from the outset.

If PNG had a Senate composed of, say, 2 Senators from each province (perhaps plus each Provincial Governor), it would have hugely complicated the government's efforts to pass dodgy or blatantly self interested legislation.

It is by no means certain of this would have put an effective end to the double dealing and chicanery we now see on display in PNG politics, but it might have acted as a brake on the worst forms of corruption.

As for Australia, we now have a largely neutered government that, bereft of any real idea about how to deal with the country's blindingly obvious socio-economic problems, will simply linger for the statutory 3 years before, in all probability, being consigned to the dust bin of history.

Whether their likely replacements have the intelligence, determination and resilience to stare down the rent seekers and special interest advocates and do what has to be done, is a matter of conjecture.

I'm not holding my breath.

I suspect that in many of the electorates in the 2017 PNG elections voters will be faced with a choice similar to the Americans in November - a suite of appalling candidates.

Deciding not to vote for any of those candidates could then be a positive decision and the exercise of a democratic right.

Chips makes a good point, we get the politicians we deserve. How you can encourage good candidates to stand can be a real problem, especially when money and greed motivates most of them like it does in PNG.

The only way I can see to get good candidates in PNG is to remove the money element. The only way to do that is to stop corruption. That looks impossible at the moment.

The only other avenue I can see is for the honest politicians like Gary Juffa to get together and form a rigidly moral party that fields candidates in as many electorates as possible.

Like Keith says, cherish the right to vote, but exercise it the best way you think fit. If that involves not voting so be it.

It's no good blaming the politicians, Phil. As Joseph de Maistre said, "Every nation gets the government it deserves." So, if we vote these clowns and crooks in, we can't really blame them for being clowns and crooks.

I totally agree, Phil. Voting in an election in PNG is not compulsory so why waste time and vote someone or anyone when we know there is no no suitable candidate to vote for. Simply abstaining won't do any harm.
_________

Beg to disagree, Francis. If good people don't vote, it gives the villains and the inept a free run. Voting is a precious democratic right. We should treasure it - KJ

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