Some people like to make a big deal about the political system that Australia bequeathed to Papua New Guinea on the eve of independence in 1975.SOME people lik
They argue that it is a western system that is incompatible with the so-called Melanesian Way of consensus and its emphasis on the community rather than the individual.
The system they object to is commonly referred to as Western Democracy.
Democracy is a Greek word that roughly translates as the ‘rule of the people’ and refers to a system of governance developed in Greece.
There are various definitions of democracy but the Oxford English Dictionary probably sums it up accurately saying it is ‘a system of government in which all the people of a state or polity… are involved in making decisions about its affairs, typically by voting to elect representatives to a parliament or similar assembly’.
The appellation ‘western’ simply refers to democracy’s place of origin and original application i.e. Greece.
To my mind the above definition also aptly describes what people purport to call the Melanesian Way.
Consensus means the involvement of everyone in the community or society, which is the case of both democracy and the Melanesian Way.
The idea that democracy in the west is about the individual is wrong. Individualism is a feature of capitalism, an economic system, not democracy. You can have a capitalist economic system within both democracy and the Melanesian Way, just as it can exist within communism and monarchism.
The Melanesian Way, if you are seeking a definition, could therefore aptly be summed up as a democracy. There is no difference between the two
For practical reasons democracy usually, but not necessarily, involves the election of representatives of a community or society. If you wanted to extend the concept of the Melanesian Way to a point where it could apply to a large nation state an election of representatives to a parliament would be the most logical thing to do.
So the Melanesian Way in its modern context is no different to Western Democracy.
Where the perceived differences lie, I think, is in the application.
In a perfect democracy the elected representatives would have nothing but the interests of the people they represent at heart. Off the top of my head I can’t think of anywhere in the world where that actually happens.
In most cases the representatives either represent a particular constituency in their electorate or worse no one at all but themselves.
In Australia most politicians are influenced by powerful lobby groups that provide them with, among other things, funds.
The Liberals get bribes from big business and Labor gets bribes from the union movement.
Once a politician starts accepting these bribes they become captive to the ideology of the donors. Tony Abbott was in the pockets of big business and so is Malcolm Turnbull. The union movement pulls Bill Shorten’s strings. The only honest politicians in the Australia parliament are a couple of independents and maybe the Greens.
In Papua New Guinea big business exerts the same sort of pressure on the politicians, albeit more blatantly so than in Australia.
Without an effective party system with defined ideologies the bribes go directly into the politicians pockets. This is so deeply entrenched that it is accepted as the ways things are done.
Does anyone actually know what Peter O’Neill’s Peoples National Congress Party or Don Polye’s Triumph Heritage Empowerment Party actually stand for? Not to mention the 40+ other micro parties in parliament.
What is missing, in both Australia and especially Papua New Guinea is the original idea that in a democracy the politicians represent the people.
In this sense it wouldn’t be unfair to say that neither Australia nor Papua New Guinea are truly democratic nations.
And I think that further weakens the arguments about the distinctions between democracy and the Melanesian Way.
Democracy may exist at the grass roots level in Australia and its counterpart, the Melanesian Way, may exist at the grassroots level in Papua New Guinea but neither exists at the national level.
In Australia we are run by greedy big business and the unions and in Papua New Guinea the nation is run by greedy big business, mostly from overseas, and individual and greedy politicians.
The system of democracy in either country does not need fixing or changing. All that is required is the honest application of its original intent and principles.