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Four deaths but PNG elections are much quieter than before

Kerenga Kua meets voters (Eric Tlozek)ERIC TLOZEK | Australian Broadcasting Corporation

TOUGH economic times are affecting Papua New Guinea's normally colourful election campaign.

Candidates and parties are crying poor, and that has meant the normally feverish campaign is more subdued than expected.

The leader of the PNG National Party, Kerenga Kua, said that has implications for PNG's democracy.

"There is less colour, less movement, and that's not good, because you need to have some level of activity for educational purposes," he said.

"The messages from candidates need to go out for the people. To do that, they need money and they don't have money."

Voters usually expect campaigns to be a period of uncharacteristic generosity from their incumbent politicians and intending candidates.

In the past, many have received inducements to support particular candidates, such as money, food or alcohol.

Miriam Nombri's husband is running for parliament, and she is familiar with voters' expectations.

"They think the candidates will give them money, they will take the money as something they always wanted and they use the money and they cast their votes," she said.

"They're not thinking about the future of how they will enjoy the benefits of the government doing some good things for them, because they need money now.

"So people are thinking when it's campaign time, it's money time."

The election campaigns are usually a boom time for people who rent cars, sell advertising, print posters, or even dance in a traditional singsing group.

But this year's election campaign has been a strong contrast to 2012, when PNG was enjoying the economic benefits of the construction phase of its first liquefied natural gas project.

There are fewer candidates than expected — 3,148 compared with a projected 4,000 — and they are reportedly spending less money.

The subdued campaign conditions have not prevented outbreaks of PNG's notorious election violence.

Four people have died in clashes between rival groups of supporters and several candidates have been attacked while campaigning or nominating.

PNG's Electoral Commissioner Patilias Gamato called for that to stop.

"We have not gone into polls yet but already people are engaging in violent activities, threats and intimidation — that's unnecessary," he said.

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