NOOSA – Far from being a celebration of democracy, Papua New Guinea’s recent general election provided a toxic banquet of malfeasance, deception, connivance and deadly violence.
Now Western Highlands-born academic Dr Joe Ketan, who spent four months intensively observing the election, has delivered what the Australian Broadcasting Corporation has termed “a scathing assessment” of what transpired.
Dr Ketan, a political scientist and former head of PNG Studies and International Relations at Divine Word University, concluded the election showed PNG “descending into community dictatorship” which "compromised the principles of democracy".
PNG’s democracy had been eroded through malpractice, fraud, violence, intimidation, bribery and corruption, he said.
“The lack of integrity at all levels of state society relations, with loss of trust in government institutions, is a cause for concern,” he said.
Democracy was very fragile and might take hundreds of years to restore as people had “grown thick skin” and were tolerating the current situation.
Dr Ketan accused the PNG electoral commission of “turning a blind eye” to much of what happened.
He said the only hope for PNG was to teach the younger generation not to carry on this cycle of corruption so they could teach their children and the generations to come.
Dr Ketan also questioned reports by international observers on the conduct of the election, calling them “very diplomatic”.
His experience varied significantly from their expressed views. As you would expect, prime minister Peter O’Neill built a veneer of triumph around the election, but what proved harder to stomach were the ingratiating and less than candid reports and commentaries offered by Australian and Commonwealth officials.
“The Australian government congratulates PNG, one of our closest friends and partners, on its successful election,” said Australian foreign minister Julie Bishop.
“Our group was of the view that despite the challenges observed with the electoral roll, there were some positive aspects observed, in particular the high voter turn-out and enthusiasm by the people to participate in their democratic process,” reported the Commonwealth Observer Group, pulling many punches.
And Australian senator Linda Reynolds told parliament, “I had the great privilege of representing the Australian government as one of four Australian observers to the 2017 PNG elections. I would like to start by warmly congratulating Papua New Guinea on the successful conduct of their ninth election since independence.”
The report of this delegation has still not been tabled in parliament. Neither has there been any report on election-related deaths, estimated to be more than 100, tabled in the PNG parliament.
And we should constantly remind ourselves that, while there are 111 seats in the PNG parliament, not a single woman representative was elected, a reality the PNG government needs to take substantive steps to correct - preferably through a reserved seats system.