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Election 2017 - a time for people to lead and leaders to follow?

Election 2017PHIL FITZPATRICK

SOMETHING interesting happened this month when Donald Trump pulled the United States out of the Paris climate accord.

Americans across the USA came out in large numbers and reiterated and reinvigorated their commitment to fighting climate change.

A similar thing has been happening in Australia. While prime minister Malcolm Turnbull will not countenance putting a price on carbon, and is only grudgingly supporting renewable energy, the Australian public and private sectors are enthusiastically embracing renewable technologies while abandoning coal fired energy options.

These developments are akin to the law of physics that says for every action there is an equal and opposite reaction. Maybe ‘political science’ is no longer an oxymoron.

This ‘people’s resistance’ phenomenon may also have currency in Papua New Guinea, particularly in the current election.

Many thinking Papua New Guineans are deeply worried that the corrupt and incompetent government of Peter O’Neill will be returned to power and there are clear signs that a capable resistance might be developing.

I can’t recall when there has been so much public criticism of a sitting government in Papua New Guinea. Even in the dark days of the Skate government criticism was muted.

In the run up to this election, social media is alive with discontent and, even if the traditional media hasn’t picked up on what’s going on, people in the streets and villages are talking about it.

They are in effect reacting against what they perceive as O’Neill’s ‘plan’ for the future – more corruption and more plunder.

Recent estimates reveal that nearly 950,000 Papua New Guineans use social media and that use is growing quickly. Nearly a million people is a fair slug of the voting public. No wonder O’Neill was trying to suppress it.

In PNG, of course, there is always  the ‘Land of the Unexpected’ factor. This is a dynamic akin to chaos theory. The LOTU factor can cut either way: Papua New Guineans might be stupid enough to re-elect O’Neill; or they might be smart enough to get rid of him.

If you take these examples of Trump, Turnbull and O’Neill (and maybe throw in Theresa May), you might conclude that some political leaders are becoming irrelevant. We might be reaching a point where the people lead and the leaders follow.

When Trump was unexpectedly elected, the shocked American public and the world at large reassured itself by saying the USA was bigger than its president. That is, the massive bulk of America’s population would do what was right despite its leader.

Certainly Trump’s record low popularity for an American president suggests some truth to this notion.

I wonder if it is an analogy applicable to Papua New Guinea: the Papua New Guinean people will do what is right despite their leaders.

Don’t laugh. I know the signs are hardly there. But remember that most of the Papua New Guinean people survive despite, not because of, their leaders.

Will common sense prevail in this election? We can only hope so. But for that to happen trust has to be placed in the people. Are they up to it? We’ll know by the end of next month.

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