A Journey Awaits
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Denuding democracy – election 2017 did not measure up

Abraham Lincoln
Abraham Lincoln - "Government of the people, by the people and for the people"


PORT MORESBY - Abraham Lincoln’s Gettysburg speech captured the essence of democracy. Democracy, he said, is a government of the people, by the people and for the people.

In democratic societies, the people have the right to vote and elect their leaders. The democratic form of government was conceived as a revolt against the monarchical governments that controlled much of Europe and suppressed the people to servitude.

So democracy was established as an alternative to oligarchy.

According to British prime minister Sir Winston Churchill, real democratic process comes to play when “the little man, walking into the little booth, with a little pencil, making a little cross on a little bit of paper, without intimidation.”

In a democratic society, the people choose their representatives without fear or favour. When an electoral process is transparent, an election is deemed authentic.

To defend democracy and the rule of the law, the Allies fought tooth and nail to defend the onslaught of Nazism during the World War II. Millions of courageous man and woman lost their lives to fight for freedom and democracy when totalitarian ideology wanted to dominate the world.

After the horrific results of the war, nations better understood the importance of human dignity, freedom and progress and generally agreed to a democratic system of government to protect these ideals. A few nations like Russia, China and some others continued to favour a totalitarian system.

Today, to maintain, a robust democracy, the pillars of democracy must be upheld. Free and fair elections must continue to be cornerstone of democracy, where the citizens to express their political preferences by choosing their governments.

According to Transparency International, in many countries, particularly those where democratic institutions are weaker, corruption poses a serious threat to the legitimacy of electoral processes and outcomes.

There are three fundamental ways in which electoral integrity can be undermined - through vote-buying, abuse of state resources and election rigging. 

The 2017 Papua New Guinea election was reckoned by many people, including international observers, as a failed election due to the many anomalies that transpired.  

To maintain a vibrant democracy, there must be an even playing field for all candidates to allow a free fair election. The democratic processes are the moral guardrails that keep a democratic society functioning.

When egotistical leaders circumvent the democratic process for selfish reason, we bring in a reign of anarchy and chaos. We have a choice a nation in young democracy, to play by rules, to perpetuate democracy or invite mobocracy and destroy our young nation.

Vote-buying occurs when a politician or party provides favours (such as access to public services, resources or preferential treatment) to voters in exchange for consensus, political support, and commitment to vote.

Abuse of state resources can encompass any use of publicly owned resources that affects the financing of political parties or of elections in such a way as to favour one party or candidate at the expense of other contestants.

Examples of the abuse of state resources range from the use of regulatory power to alter elections laws in favour of a political party or candidate, to the use of government-owned infrastructure and state resources including personnel for election campaign purposes and the manipulation of media. 

Election rigging, on the other hand, consists in manipulating electoral outcomes through corrupt practices such as ballot-stuffing, misinforming voters, false recording of votes, manipulations of voter’s register and/or manipulation of demographic information (such as altering constituency boundaries).

The foundation of all democracy is that the people have the right to vote. To deprive them of that right is to make a mockery of all the high-sounding phrases so often used.

Democracy is that little man walking into the little booth with a little pencil making a little cross on a little bit of paper.

No amount of rhetoric or voluminous discussion can possibly palliate the overwhelming importance of that. The people have the right to choose representatives in accordance with their wishes and feelings.


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Bernard Corden

"Never believe that a few caring people can’t change the world. For, indeed, that’s all who ever have" - Margaret Mead

Paul Oates

To really simplify what is going on is to take a helicopter view and not get bogged down with the mechanics.

The process is older than recorded history. It's called human nature.

Those who have energy and intent devise how to engineer a better life over those who are either too lazy to do the same or due to some trick of happenstance, don't have the opportunity.

As I've suggested previously, the masses suffer from 'collective inertia'.

Only when it becomes completely intolerable is there a tipping point and an outpouring of emotive action that usually ends up being led by an opportunist who then benefits at the expense of the same masses who still 'can't see the wood for the trees'.

Modern examples of an opportunist are Napoleon and Hitler. One could also currently point the finger at the US as well except that the difference between the 'haves and the have nots' must be measured using different benchmarks depending on what part of the world you make the comparison with. Many nations have suffered from the same process over the years. Look at Spain and Franco and today's France. Go back a few decades or centuries and there are many more examples.

Is there an answer to this seemingly inevitable dilemma human societies seem to often end up in?

Nothing comes to mind. The Romans summed the process of dumbing down the masses by providing 'bread and circuses'. Today we call this social security and sport.

Same process. Different times.

Meanwhile those with wealth and opportunity continue to do what they have always done. It's the law of the jungle.

Globally, it's been suggested that if everyone in the world today had the same standard of living as western nations we would need 2 and a half worlds of resources to allow this to happen. The western world is now finding out that those with get up and go are trying to migrate to where they see a better life. It's called nation shopping.

Some win, some lose. Most can't work out why they have to be bothered trying to understand what's going on until it affects them personally.

Philip Fitzpatrick

That’s good news Bernard, a sequel to ‘The Corporation’. If it’s anything like the first one it will have an interesting impact.

Hopefully they will expand on the idea that free market capitalism and neo-liberalism are obsolete and have been replaced by corporatism, or as you suggest psychocorporatism

Moser says “we [now] confront a new form of capitalist order: the merger between the biggest corporations and the state. The corporate power dominates nations by hollowing out and commandeering the institutions that were supposed to represent people. Economic decisions are made behind closed doors at the Treasury Department or Federal Reserve where bankers rule and regular citizens dare not go. The same power operates on the global stage through international institutions and regulatory bodies that do not even pretend to be democratic such as WTO, IMF, and World Bank. Corporate power tends toward fascism by destroying democracy and imposing austerity — the very conditions that give fascism mass appeal”.

He goes on to set out the evidence: “This long historical shift away from free markets and toward corporate power has left such a clear trail of evidence it’s a wonder it’s not self-evident. How else can we interpret the corporatization of war and the military and the billions in direct and indirect subsidies to corporations? Government shelters banks, guaranteeing loans and mortgages while bailing out stupid investors. Wealth is redistributed to the top though massive tax breaks and cuts to social programs. Legally enforced starvation wages push workers to public assistance ultimately subsidizing their bosses. Tax codes encourage the rich to shelter trillions in tax havens while the unrepresented masses make up the difference. Federal programs like “quantitative easing” pumps free money into the financial system. The risk and losses from environmental destruction are for us to reckon with while the rule of law has been suspended for corporate criminals of all kinds. Major economic decisions have largely migrated from national governments to even more dictatorial global bodies. The IMF, WTO and World Bank do the bidding of the largest corporations that are the foundation of the US imperial alliance”.

In the world in general and in PNG particularly the target for reformers should not be the government but the corporations that control it.

This can be done. To wit the Banking Royal Commission. The commission was forced on the government by some dedicated whistle blowers and journalists.

Bernard Corden

Dear Phil,

The term psychopathocracy is more fitting:




"The surface of American society is covered with a layer of democratic paint, but from time to time one can see the old aristocratic colours breaking through" Alexis de Tocqueville - Democracy in America

Philip Fitzpatrick

I think most so-called democracies could now be more correctly termed ‘corpocracies’.

Although I understand the term first appeared way back in 1935 during Franklin Delano Roosevelt’s presidency I only came across it when reading David Mitchell’s 2013 novel ‘Cloud Atlas’.

A ‘corpocracy’ is a system of governance where powerful monopolies in the form of companies and financial institutions are fully supported by the government to the exclusion of all other interests.

Living in a corpocracy means that our votes are rendered useless. No matter who we elect they will defer to the interests of big business at all times.

To pretend that any vote cast in PNG, and probably Australia, in the past 20 years has had any major influence on the nature of our political system is therefore ridiculous.

Chris Overland

Simon Davidson has pointed to several strategies by which the integrity of a notionally democratic system can be undermined.

The combined impact of these strategies in PNG has been to hollow out the political system to the point where voting has become a meaningless exercise in swapping one set of corrupt and incompetent politicians for another.

It may fairly be contended that this problem is now endemic across much of the supposedly democratic world.

Politicians of every stripe have so perfected the dark arts of dissembling, evasion, fear mongering and outright lying as to render their every pronouncement suspect.

Also, the judicious use of bribery through things like special access to influence or consideration for the allocation public funds and that old favourite, tax cuts, has similarly been perfected.

Electorates across the world have become so used to these strategies that they have effectively been normalised.

It is only when an exceptionally egregious figure like Donald Trump or Vladimir Putin or Recep Erdogan or Nicolas Maduro emerges that at least some people belatedly realise that they have allowed their democratic rights to be degraded if not entirely rendered pointless.

Perhaps Abraham Lincoln's greatest achievement was to be able to recognise and clearly articulate that the long term national interest of the US lay in unity, not division, and then bring together the people and resources necessary to achieve that objective through the "fiery trial" of an exceptionally hideous civil war.

I struggle to see any current politician in the democratic world who could emulate Lincoln.

So, here we are, bombarded with platitudes, weasel words and unctuous palm greasing, all designed to make us think that we live in the best of all possible worlds when that is manifestly not the case.

PNG is in pretty much the same place as the rest of us, although the consequences of political malfeasance and incompetence are much worse for them than most of us, at least for the moment.

Whether we can collectively muster the insight, will and resolve to reinvent our various democracies so that they truly are government for the people, by the people and of the people remains to be seen.

Paul Oates

Exactly Chips. The US keeps spruiking about how they are the Great Democracy but try to determine exactly how this system is supposed to work? During a visit to the US some years ago, our guide tried to explain how their idea of a democratic voting system works and gave up.

The other factor that seems to fly in the face of logic is how the US can flatten a place and then wonder why those who are left can't grasp the wonderful benefits that accrue in terms of sugared cola drinks, chewing gum and baseball caps.

Yet, as Howard once observed, who do you rely on if your nation needs defending? In today's Australian newspaper, it explains that the 5G network will be used to virtually run our future lives. It also details claims that a certain electronics company is accused of paying bonuses to employees based on how much information and systems those employees have stolen from other companies in other countries.

Meanwhile, on our tribal television, the first of the 'footie' season is fast displacing the boring Big Bash cricket and some people find it apparently incredible that the land of the drought and flooding rains is living up to its reputation.

Chips Mackellar

That is right, Paul. There should be available choices and alternatives to vote for. And wouldn't you think that this is so in the great democracy of the United States. Yet a year or so before he died, I remember seeing Gore Vidal on TV giving his view of American democracy. He said America is not a democracy. It is a one party dictatorship. There is no choice of alternate policies in USA he said, because Congress has no Labor Party, no Greens, no socialists, no Christian Democrats, no Conservatives, no independents, and no other parties of any kind. It has one Party only, he said, and this one party has two right wings, one called Republicans, and the other Democrats, and the people have no other choice. And the moral of this situation he said, is that Democracy is not always what it seems. And this is so in PNG which seems like a democracy but in real life it is a tribal dictatorship of many factions each holding the same policies. The people have no other choice to vote for, because it doesn't matter who wins the next election, and even though the members of Parliament may change, the result will be still be the same tribal dictatorship.

Paul Oates

Democracy is more then being able to vote for the candidate of your choice however. In order to have a healthy democracy there must be available choices and alternatives to vote for.

There must also be a healthy debate over what choices are available. There must a free press with no political control over it.

People sometimes forget that Hitler and the Nazis were initially voted into power. Many other regimes start off being voted in and then try to hang onto the power they have as power becomes addictive.

China and Russia are often thought of as authoritative regimes yet they still have elections. In China there is only one political party and discussion is often on a 'guided' basis.

Many so called 'free' countries are increasingly under threat of being undermined by external forces. Often this is because people in these countries have forgotten how their ancestors won the freedoms now being enjoyed.

Freedom can be surreptitiously threatened through complacency and the majority of a populace being basically unaware that their freedom and democracy can never be taken as a 'given'. It must be continually defended in thought, word and deed if necessary.

Western democracy today is continually under threat and constantly being 'white anted'.

The biggest threat at the moment is an increasing rejection or core values by a younger generation that has not had the experience of how things were in former times and how easily they could once again slide back to.

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