Papua New Guinea’s election: what happened, what next?
Not Africa. The sleeping giant of the Pacific awakes

Trying to better understand corruption & violence in PNG politics

Deadly Kundiawa election violencePHILIP KAI MORRE

KUNDIAWA - National  elections give us the opportunity to vote for good leaders to represent us in parliament; leaders who can develop sound policies that respect the aspirations of the people for the growth of our nation.

But in the recent election, this freedom to elect good leaders was not practically achieved. Once again, it was accepted as normal to vote for tribally-based candidates.

The democratic process of electing the best leaders disappears beneath the strong wantok system where our mind set is not open to elect to represent us in parliament good leaders of upright moral character, honesty and integrity.

Corruption in high office is the cornerstone of everything that has gone wrong in Papua New Guinea.

How can we fight this evil when the very people who are supposed to fight corruption at the top level are corrupt themselves?

Corruption is seen everywhere, starting from the leading politicians and working steadily down through the bureaucracy, including security personnel and cleaners. Even pastors and church workers are involved in corruption.

We talk about getting rid of corruption but are not serious in fighting it because we always elect the wrong leaders.

Let me turn now to another evil – election-related violence.

This is the contemporary version of a traditional problem, the tribal and clan conflict that is deeply rooted in the structure of our society and which has now become integrated into modern practice.

It is a sad articulation of the male imperative and ego that sees fighting as a norm to solve problems. Sadly our young people have developed the same addictive tendency to violently destroy others who voted against their preferred tribal candidates.

Our mentality is full of such irrational thoughts and this negative outlook contributes to the violence we see around us right now.

Yet both opposing sides become losers. No one can claim victory because both sides experience death, property destroyed, houses burned down, vehicles torched, schools and health centres closed, infrastructure devastated….

In street fights between rival candidates’ supporters, we brawl and get nothing out of it but an even greater struggle to bring back what we have destroyed.

We achieve nothing but to go backwards. We should use our reason to think these things through before we start fighting. How foolish this tendency to cause so much death and destruction and to go backwards.

Violence produces nothing but fear, irrationality and the perpetuation and escalation of aggressive behaviour. The pain and wounds of innocent people exist for many years.

We should feel confident to own our problems and solve them ourselves and not resort so quickly and brutishly to blame the wrong people for them.

In our contemporary capitalist society, greed, power and wealth play important roles to maintain the status quo. Corruption in high office is a given. Elections become a clever trick whereby politicians manipulate the mass of the population for their own gain, offering empty promises of development with no intent to deliver on them.

The 2017 election created more problems than in past elections and crowd violence was worse with more deaths, injuries and destroyed property. It was in so many respects a failed election.

I have sought to reflect rationally on my experience of this election.

I have observed collective violent behaviour where the law of mental unity of crowds created an emotional contagion that sucked in the individual.

The ignorant and deviant supporters of particular candidates so wedded to their candidate winning that losing and getting nothing filled their minds with false beliefs and irrational thoughts.

Ignorance of how the election and counting of votes actually work added to their fsutration and anger.

Violence is now an infectious disease in PNG politics, especially in the highlands of PNG where candidates and supporters campaign aggressively and confront situations pugnaciously. This is all intensified by problem such as kidnapping and bribery, conducted quite openly often with the connivance of crooked police and defence force personnel.

We need sociologists and psychologists to study these violent trends and develop remedies and programs to educate our people and attempt to establish a template to improve and change these irrational thoughts and behaviours.

These wise people would look at the phenomena of imitation and contagion: the tendency to follow what others are doing. Everybody carries bush knives, shouts at each other and throws stones and sticks; it’s bound to end in crowd violence in towns. It’s not really tribe-based and no one is fully responsible. We need to look searchingly at this.

Then there is the circular reaction or social interaction process - a form of violence which is both a response and a stimulus to other people’s behaviour.

Many of these phenomena were seen in the counting at Dickson’s Field in Kundiawa. A candidate from Kerowagi was expected to win because he led the first count by more than 8,000 votes as the final elimination drew near. Rival supporters, thinking they would lose and angered by this became violent and burned down houses and destroyed property of the other candidate’s supporters. But as the preferences were distributed, he fell behind and came second. This triggered more violence after the declaration by another group of people.

Convergence theory stresses the underlying issues of anti-social behaviour whereas the contagion explanation stresses the spontaneous and temporary response. We see both in this tendency to cause violence when things don’t go a certain way.

People always want to win and if they lose become violent.

At this time our irrational thoughts (tingting nogut) and emotions are running high and our reasoning powers are in hiding (gutpela tingting igo hait).

Later, when it is too late, we will come to realise our mistakes.


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Philip Kai Morre

Thanks Phil. To fight corruption and take steps to correct the corrupt is a complex issue that needs profound understanding and analysis of factors and underlying issues.

We need to educate the mass of the population but firstly we need to look at specific groups and try to tame their aggressive drive and reveal their authentic selves.

This could be done through self management training designed locally which is culturally, morally, spiritually and psychologically based.

We need to look at the critical mass first, maybe 20% of the population and others will fall in line.

For example, Kup Women for Peace initiated programs that changed the whole community and there were no major conflicts or problems of election related violence.

It was the same with Gor United and Community Policing where election related violence was non existent. I was involved in providing the training and intervention programs.

Philip Fitzpatrick

I can't offer any suggestions as to how corruption and electoral violence can be solved but I would like to congratulate Philip on a very fine essay.

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