THE PAPUA New Guinea government has imposed a nomination fee of K10,000 ($4,320) on candidates for next year’s general election, a tenfold increase from the previous fee of K1,000.
This compares with a deposit of $1,000 for Australian national elections, refundable if a candidate obtains at least 4% of the votes.
The government says it is trying to defray the costs associated with the election, to be held in May-June, for which it has budgeted K400 million.
But there is no doubt the fee (well over a year’s income for the average Papua New Guinean employee) will prevent many potential candidates from standing.
In addition, the government has slashed the official campaign period from eight weeks to four – although in reality campaigning is already well underway in many areas.
Prime Minister Peter O'Neill told parliament the 2017 election could be expected to see more than 4,000 candidates nominate in 111 electorates, but the new charges can be expected to considerably reduce this number.
When O'Neill signalled his plan for the fee increase in August, the opposition warned it would seriously disadvantage potential candidates not in government.
This, indeed, could be the real reason for the government's decision.
Politics is now a big money game in PNG – big money to join but even bigger opportunities if you win – and a new wealthy ruling class seems to be in the making.
In 2017, the price of democracy will move well beyond the reach of the vast majority of Papua New Guineans.