Journalist Mark Davis summarises the main issues from the Australian National University’s hard-hitting report on the 2017 Papua New Guinea national election. This is the second of Mark’s four part summary of a report that documents an election replete with threats, malfeasance and corruption. You can link here to the full report
CAIRNS - There is much for the Australian government to consider about the corrupt Papua New Guinea elections in 2002, 2007, 2012 and now 2017.
All were conducted with considerable aid support from Australia, some of it directly to the PNG Electoral Commission but most to the general strengthening of the country’s institutions.
On the evidence of those elections, and independent observations, that aid has failed - as has Australian diplomacy over many years.
But the failure of Australia’s Liberal-National coalition and Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade (DFAT) to understand the Pacific and develop and implement effective policies is nowhere more evident than in Australia’s relationship with PNG in recent years.
Prior to the 2017 election, Australia let it be known that it would support the re-election of the O’Neill regime “in the interest of the political stability of the nation”.
It proceeded to interfere in domestic politics immediately ahead of the election through a series of high-profile ministerial visits and other engagements, the announcement of a raft of aid projects and a flood of public relations fluff from the Australian High Commission in Port Moresby.
The comfort thus provided to prime minister O’Neill, the invidious position in which the Manus deal had put Australia, the years of official neglect and ineptness, and obnoxious and ham-fisted megaphone diplomacy, means that now O’Neill can continue to do as he pleases, playing Australia and its allies off against China with impunity.
This is ANU’s third election report and it is clear from its content that the university has been steadfast in its rejection of any interference and in doing so has rendered a valuable contribution to Australia’s understanding of PNG.
It stands head and shoulders above other observer reports, especially the Commonwealth Observer Group’s ridiculous ‘contribution’.
It does reinforce Transparency International PNG’s observer report, which condemned the election after finding numerous instances of corruption; many of the TI and ANU findings are consistent.
The report also provides a good context for specialist PNG analyst and economist Paul Flanagan’s two excellent election reports (see articles here and here), which statistically demonstrated the extent of the O’Neill regime’s election rigging.
Flanagan is one of the few people able and willing to expose the O’Neill regime, and his reports on economic and financial affairs have been a beacon in the dark recesses of corruption, waste and mismanagement.
The question now is, given the antipathy to the report in PNG and Canberra, will there be a fourth observer mission and report? And will this current report’s many recommendations be implemented or given the usual lip service by O’Neill?
The report states that “in fact, the 2017 elections saw democratic processes hijacked in many places, resulting in elections that were seriously flawed” and that elections “were neither free, safe, fair nor inclusive”.
An entire section, ‘Concluding Assessments from Local Observers’, contains repeated lamentations about the loss of democracy. A key finding is that:
“….the 2017 elections did not improve on the 2012 elections. Sobering as it is, this report concludes that elections in PNG continue to trend in the wrong direction. It finds that the 2017 elections witnessed a marked deterioration in the overarching election environment.
“Serious irregularities, including voter intimidation, personation, underage voting, multiple voting and proxy voting, were identified to a greater or lesser extent by each of the 35 observer teams deployed by the ANU.
“Electoral misbehaviour and malfeasance, as noted in relation to both the 2007 and 2012 elections, continued to flourish in 2017, facilitated in large part by the poor state of the electoral roll. It proved more widespread and more brazen than ever before.
“Electoral violence was also more widespread than previously noted, punctuating the election period in all but three of the 69 electorates in which the ANU observation team made detailed observations.
“Coupled with this, poor standards and bad behaviour have become normalised, serving to undermine local confidence in the PNGEC and the electoral process more broadly.”
The report also identifies the prevalence of ‘wantokism’ (PNG’s version of nepotism) throughout the electoral process, with partners, relatives of candidates and clan members of candidates being appointed to critical positions.
“Restoring confidence in the electoral process must be a priority moving forward,” the report states.
In this respect the report breaks new ground, providing public evidence for the first time that the PNG Electoral Commission is in fact a major player in rigging elections, in 2002, 2007, 2012 and now 2017.
There were some polling stations that were well run and administered with almost all rules followed. But observers found widespread and large-scale fraud and maladministration, with varying degrees of disorder.
The report says that nowhere in the country did the elections run smoothly or without incident.
“Electoral fraud – comprising unlawful interference in the process of the election including fraudulent voter registration, manipulation of the electoral roll, personation, multiple voting, underage voting and misrepresentation or alteration of the true results of the election (e.g., false declarations and double declarations) was more brazen and more widespread than in either 2007 or 2012.
“Money politics was also more widespread and of a different order than in earlier elections, being focused on key officials and local ‘strongmen’ who could deliver outcomes rather than individual voters.”
Devolution of significant elements of electoral administration to the provinces contributed to the chaos and corruption.
Moreso than in previous elections, observers reported candidate capture of key electoral processes, including the roll update, and dissatisfaction with delayed funding and funding shortfalls, the appointment of partisan electoral officials, and with counting and declarations.
Mark Davis worked as a media adviser to Sir Mekere Morauta, former prime minister and Member for Moresby North-West in the national parliament