Despatches from the election front – ‘despite chaos all goes well’
Veteran doctor John Niblet dies: treated evilly by PNG government

Election 2017. Is it now or never? Or the same old as before?

Electoral commision signPHIL FITZPATRICK

FRANCIS Nii, Keith Jackson and others, me included, have recently written about the impact of social media on the 2017 election in Papua New Guinea.

We all agree that the impact has been unexpectedly significant and could portend a new and better style of accountable government.

As Francis has noted, the impact of social media is not just confined to its users. When someone on social media sees something of interest they tell their friends and the information spreads like wildfire by word of mouth.

Social media is acting as a kind of loudspeaker across Papua New Guinea. When something happens in Port Moresby it is propelled by social media almost instantly to even the remotest parts of the country.

The collective chaos that is being reported during these current elections is transmitted very quickly and very effectively.

It seems social media in PNG has reached a tipping point and, provided the government doesn’t succeed in clamping down, which it would like to do, its influence is assured.

If this is the case, PNG is in a transformative stage of its political development. Hopefully the days of lamb flaps and SP lager bribing are on the way out.

This won’t become apparent until the counting of votes is complete and the disputed return hearings have been finalised.

However, if all goes well, Papua New Guinea may very well find itself with a reform-minded and progressive government in power

If this is the case, it will be historically significant.

The job then will be not to let any opportunities slip by. This is important because Papua New Guinea is very good at missing opportunities.

The electoral commission, for instance, probably wasted the opportunity to get its act together when help was available from overseas and instead only started thinking seriously about the election not long before it was due.

At an historical moment like this, a new PNG government might like to take a leaf out of the book of Bob Hawke’s 1983 Australian Labor government and call a number of high level planning summits.

In an early example of his consensus approach to politics, Hawke called a meeting of leaders of business, government and trades unions to discuss economic strategy, an approach to unemployment and inflation, and a prices and incomes accord.

As well as setting up a progressive legislative and administrative program for change, a new PNG government might like to consider a number of constitutional matters, not least the structure of parliament.

Chris Overland and others have pointed out, the unicameral (single chamber) model was probably a mistake.

Among other things it hasn’t been able to control a government prone to corruption and inefficiency. An upper house capable of managing the more outrageous abuses of a sitting government might be a good idea.

Such a house could be drawn from the existing system simply by splitting the Open and Provincial electorates. The 89 Open members could remain in a lower house and the 22 Provincial members could form a new upper house of review. Even better, there could be 44 Provincial members in the upper house evenly divided between men and women.

One of the things that distinguished the Hawke government from the earlier Whitlam government was that Hawke took his time and thought about what he was doing. Whitlam, on the other hand, went at it like a bull in a china shop and the rest is history.

This is mere speculation at the moment of course. Everyone’s worst nightmare might come to pass with the People’s National Congress managing to rig the election enough to stay in power.

Nevertheless, there is no harm in being prepared and thinking about what sort of changes would be good for Papua New Guinea.


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