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Elections in Papua New Guinea are just different



THE WHOLE COUNTRY doesn't vote at once. Elections take place over two weeks: one area voting the day after another.

The paraphernalia of the election – ballot boxes, voting slips, police and security officers – moves around the country like a series of travelling circuses of democracy. 

Parties don't really exist in the way that they're understood elsewhere either.

They're brands rather than platforms. Characters count more than policies.

All of which leaves the question of who might become Papua New Guinea's next prime minister very much in the air. 

It could be one of the two men already claiming to have the top job: Sir Michael Somare and Peter O’Neill have been tussling over who is the rightful prime minister since last year.

It may that another winning candidate emerges altogether.

Whoever ends up in the top job has big tasks ahead: on just about every social indicator, PNG ranks low. In fact, appallingly low given the potential of the country and its recent history – on paper - of economic growth.

Mining natural resources has brought billions of dollars into the state coffers. And yet little has filtered down to schools, hospitals or infrastructure projects. 

Political campaigning in PNG takes place by air – not because it's glamorous, but because that's the only way between the big towns. The rugged country has precious few roads.

The biggest financial boon of all – in fact – is right around the corner. A massive Liquefied Natural Gas Project is due to come on stream in 2014. It should bring $16bn into the country. 

How that money is managed will be critical to PNG's future.

So who is in power to manage it – who wins this election - matters more than ever.


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Mrs Barbara Short

Well said, David.

And "how that money is managed" is critical. PNG needs to work out a fool-proof ways of handling all the money you are going to get from these huge oil and gas and mineral projects.

I think the ways did exist at the time of Independence but "somebody" has allowed corrupt ways to creep in and do a lot of damage and waste a lot of money.

This person or persons are either poorly educated when it comes to handling money OR are just plain dishonest people.

David Kitchnoge

The author’s final thought is one shared by many of us.

I think the next government should make political reform its number one agenda. We must start by reviewing the Constitution and scrutinise the political structure that was given us at independence.

We must challenge it, debate it and try to find alternative structures that will promote political stability and political accountability.

Paul Oates, an ex kiap who lived in my village prior to independence, suggested for a bicameral parliamentary system with an Upper House.

I think we need to look closely at his idea as I think it has some merits. We must also look carefully at the role of the Head of State and see how we can position this important office to help promote political stability and accountability.

Al Jazeera is correct in their assessment of our type of politics as “brands rather than platforms” and that “characters count more than policies”.

This means that there is an absence in PNG of principle-based politics. The very essence of politics is missing in PNG.

So in the absence of principle-based politics, which is an important prerequisite for political stability and accountability, we need to find alternative methods to promote these important ingredients of nation building.

Lack of political stability and political accountability has been our number one enemy since independence. We need to really put some thought and work into finding appropriate structures and properly bed them down in law to correct the situation.

Otherwise, we can kiss our LNG project and all other socio-economic plans goodbye as alluded to by Al Jazeera in their final analysis.

PNG needs a second Independence. We need to free ourselves from ourselves – sounds silly but true. Let’s halt this grand theatre of self destruction.

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