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Does democracy exist in Papua New Guinea?


Having just returned from the original birth place of democracy in Greece, and in the light of a fellow commentator’s postulations, it seemed appropriate to reflect on whether true democracy does or did ever exit in PNG. So firstly, what is democracy...

‘Democracy is a political form of government where governing power is derived from the people, either by direct referendum or by means of elected representatives of the people... Even though there is no specific, universally accepted definition of 'democracy', equality and freedom have been identified as important characteristics of democracy since ancient times. These principles are reflected in all citizens being equal before the law and having equal access to power...’

Well that’s clear. Democracy exists when: all citizens are equal before the law, their votes are of equal value, they have legitimised rights and liberties and equal access to power.

George Orwell in Animal Farm highlighted the idea that, when some of the animals took over the farm and tasted the fruits of power, “some were more equal than others”.

So I'm given to ask whether all PNG is a democracy as defined.  In many so called modern democracies, it seems the way law is applied depends on a citizen’s relative wealth. It's said that money can buy justice, in the sense that the wealthy can afford to pay the high costs often involved.

Yet even expensive legal assistance is only a factor if a case actually goes to court. In PNG these days, it seems little legal action involving PNG politicians ever gets to court. And, if a case doesn’t get to court, how can there be any justice? So it seems not all PNG citizens are ‘equal before the law’.

‘There are several varieties of democracy, some of which provide better representation and more freedoms for their citizens than others. However, if any democracy is not carefully legislated – through the use of balances – to avoid an uneven distribution of political power … then a branch of the system of rule could accumulate power and become harmful to the democracy itself.’

Given the performance of the current Somare government where Parliamentary government has effectively been sidelined, the answer would appear to be that some people in the PNG political system have ‘accumulated power [that is] harmful to democracy itself.’

‘… without responsible government … it is possible for dissenting individuals to be oppressed by the "tyranny of the majority". An essential process in representative democracies is competitive elections that are fair both substantively and procedurally...’

So are ‘dissenting individuals’ being oppressed in PNG? Given the recent arrangements the Somare government has made to suppress the rights of landowners connected to local mining and timber industries, many would agree it has.

Are PNG elections ‘fair both substantially and procedurally’? Well with the extra financial resources given to preferred MPs (some from foreign resources, the Opposition claims), it would seem PNG elections are anything but ‘fair’.

What is clear to me is that, by these definitions, PNG is hardly an unimpeachable democracy and hasn’t been for some time.

Why then is Australia still supporting the current PNG government? Elsewhere in the world, Fiji for example, leaders of countries who have deposed Parliamentary rule and effectively instituted a dictatorship are sidelined and denounced.

Why hasn’t this happened with the current Somare regime?

The quotes in italics are from Wikipedia


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Lapun Wasman

There are 800 different languages in this country. When the people's revolution comes, there may be 800 different revolutions. Everyone may fight everyone.

There was a letter to the editor in The National today that referred to the Haves moving out in a people's revolution.

The mood is changing. They will move out to their overseas houses and bank accounts. The senior ones will fly by the government aircraft.

Ignatius Loka

The scene is being set in this country for massive social upheaval. The problems are all around us and are getting worse. There is so much poverty due to unemployment and the rising cost of living.

So much money is being stolen by people in authority and spent on luxury cars. Accounting for money is completely out of control, a problem started by the politicians who do not acquit discretionary funds - both Government and Opposition.

Big men steal money to send overseas. All laws are ignored by people if they share in the corruption and money. Stealing money takes the place of social welfare.

People are getting angry at not sharing in the benefits. The first casualties will the politicians who return to their electorates with no benefits to show for their K17 million discretionary fund.

Two have been attacked in the last month and this will increase and become more violent. Many politicians will not dare to go back to their electorates.

No one can call them to account except their voters, many of whom are armed. No one dares to think of the 2012 elections.

The highlands is becoming an armed camp. This will involve villagers fighting over land that is becoming handkerchief size with the increasing village populations.

There will be increasing action against the illegal Chinese. Recent attacks in Kainantu are only a beginning.

The LNG and Ramu nickel projects are not free to do what they want if the people are unhappy. The volume of weapons coming into the highlands shows that war is now a distinct option that the police and army will never stop.

Pipelines will be the first casualty. The police and RPNGC are unhappy too. Who wants to die for a government that starves them? In the Russian Revolution, police and army joined the peasants.

Many highlanders are moving to the coast and this is bringing new problems as they take over land and jobs of the coastals. Violence is a strong possibility here too.

Upheaval and violence involves the schools as the problems of the nation cause the setting up of school provincial groups that attack the students from other regions, strengthened by homebrew and marijuana.

There is not enough employment for the expanding population of young people.

More people are living in squatter settlements as they are not able to afford rentals of high covenant homes. Even the squatter bush timber houses in settlements cost K150 –200 a fortnight.

Families that have lived comfortable lives are now in poverty in settlements with no running water or toilets. As the violence increases in the highlands, people will move to Port Moresby and cause rental to rise.

More LNG workers will move to the capital city. Squatter settlements become more crowded. Parents have every reason to be worried about the future of their children.We have not even mentioned HIV/AIDS.

There are sure signs of governments that know their days are ending. They rush to steal whatever they can and ship it overseas.

We saw Ferdinand Marcos and his cabinet ministers doing that in the Philippines. They stole the nation's coffers before they left.

Many politicians will bank their discretionary funds in private accounts and steal whatever trust funds they can.

The day will come when they are old men sitting in villages. People will remember and not give them food. They need to live on the Gold Coast in a luxury apartment that cost K4 million of the people’s money.

Every cheap and ruthless dictator has done that in the history of the modern world.

The corruption of any country is directly proportional to the size of the body guard and the government aircraft purchased to carry them.

Reginald Renagi

Yes, Paul, democracy does exist in PNG but it's all a sham! We need a Garibaldi act but, alas, the defence force is not in a position to do so as it is loyal to the government of the day.

The Australian armed forces training and many years of military indoctrination taught us a long time ago to never get involved in politics no matter what.

Since then we have always adopted the defence policy principal of the primacy of civil power to prevail!

But, who knows, maybe one day when thing get too bloody difficult for the poor suffering people of PNG.

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