A voter's observation of a corrupted election
12 August 2022
“When you want my wife or my daughter, I can give them to you but when you want my power, I will never give it to you. Even if I lose, I will make my way in”
PHILIP KAI MORRE
KUNDIAWA - According to Greek philosopher Aristotle “Man is a political animal who can work towards his highest good only as a member of a society. Man is continuously searching for an ideal society to live in."
Abraham Lincoln, one of America's greatest presidents, referred to democracy as “government of the people, by the people and for the people.” Papua New Guinea accepted this concept and adopted it into our Constitution.
Lincoln further stressed that “elections belong to the people” and that people must make their own free choice to elect good leaders, who should aspire to and respect the values of the common people.
These days, however, we are continuously shifting away from the real meaning of democracy.
Part of that shift involves the disruption and destruction of free voting that threatens democratic government.
"When you want my wife or my daughter I can give them to you," a former member of parliament told me. "But when you want my power, I will never give it to you. Even if I lose, I will make my way in."
The neoliberal push is for a political system with elements of greed, selfishness, corruption, abuse of power, control, intimidation, manipulation and disrespect for free and fair elections.
This kind of behaviour erodes good governance and it destroys democracy.
The current political situation in PNG - not only the disrupted election process but the formation of government without an active opposition - is a real threat to the survival of democracy in our country.
Political parties and members of the 11th parliament since independence do not seem to be conscious that a government without a strong opposition is a real threat to democracy. Or if they are conscious, they do not care.
They should also be aware that what they are doing is increasingly providing justification for a future military intervention as has happened in Fiji and many African countries.
What is occurring now really frustrates the people’s confidence in a government should be providing appropriate answers to growing socio-economic problems - including unemployment, poverty and underdevelopment - and the related law and order problems.
I witnessed many cases of electoral laws being violated during each of the five periods of the 2022 election - pre-campaign, campaign, polling, vote counting and the declaration of winners.
This unlawful behaviour undermined a democratic, legitimate and lawful election. In many places in PNG, there was no free and fair voting in 2022.
Indeed, this was the worst election ever, one in which polling was controlled and manipulated by deviant supporters of desperate candidates.
I have observed people - as individuals or in groups - going from one candidate to another candidate to buy votes. This behaviour is no longer secretive.
Vote buying in the form of cash, pigs and other food is the norm in contemporary PNG politics, especially in the Highlands.
No one is complaining because for candidates to buy votes is now seen as normal.
Despite numerous educational awareness and voter education programs conducted by government agencies, NGOs and churches, PNG hasn’t solved the problems of corruption noted in previous elections.
In fact, this election was much worse. It showed we have no respect for individual voting rights nor for gender-inclusive and disability-inclusive voting.
Individual voting rights have been replaced by authoritarian or dictatorial decisions that control voters and enable multiple voting for one or two selected candidates.
In a communal society, individual rights have been suppressed and subject to mob rule.
Some candidates were so desperate to be elected, they went to extremes: using deviant youths to force people to vote for them, stealing ballot papers and engaging in multiple voting.
Politicians used youths for their own gain. Drug lords and deviant youths controlled voting places.
The ignorant sold their freedom for just a buck. Later they will regret their actions.
Another emerging norm is that some candidates claim it is their birthright to mark all ballot papers distributed in their ward areas.
If there were two or three candidates from the same ward, they would divide the ballot papers between them, marking second and third preferences to each other.
Corruption in PNG is an epidemic that now affects every part of government, including elections.
Elections in PNG are very expensive and money influences people to vote for the wrong leaders.
Some candidates, especially incumbent MPs, dish out free money to supporters, spending millions of kina from government allocations that are provided with that are meant to build schools and aid posts or to build and maintain roads.
During the campaign, polling and counting periods, businesses and other economic activities were interrupted. Government offices did not operate normally.
Government funds were diverted to election-related activities leading to systematic abuse.
In my observation, most public servants were innocent of this corruption which denied the delivery of services to the people.
Operational government bank accounts were closed by financial institutions in the name of transparency.
The consequences of this were great: the innocent population seeing hospitals and health centres without vital medicines and schools closed.
All our financial and electoral systems have been corrupted to favour certain politicians.
"Even if I lose, I will make my way in."
Fashion belong mepella. Em tasol
Posted by: William Dunlop | 12 August 2022 at 02:56 PM
"This didn’t happen by mere thought. It happened because there were enough dedicated government people to organise how it happened and to make sure the system worked."
Spot on Paul!
I remember in my years as a didman doing these very patrols, sometimes side by side with the Kiaps, the police and other government personnel. or at times by myself but also on behalf of other government departments so that irrespective of the main purpose of the patrol(agriculture in my case) issues that were found relating to health, education, law & order etc would always be brought to the attention of those relative departments at the patrols end. This is why life was much better for the remote villagers in those days because they knew the government cared about them unlike now!
Posted by: Robert Wilson | 12 August 2022 at 01:36 PM
Philip and Paul,
Two powerful pieces, both on the money.
But surely here is the conundrum. Neither system is compatible with the other and nearly five decades after the adoption of the foreign system, village politics has supplanted it.
My observation for what it is worth is there is way too much money riding on the outcome in a land of hyper regional focus for it to ever be fair or representative.
From vote buying to the biggest elephant in the room, the District Services Improvement Program (DSIP) grant that more or less gifts each open member K10 million (AUD$4 million) per annum for five years to play with as they see fit.
While it is understood that the disbursement of the DSIP fund is subject to well thought out criteria these rules are treated as simply “pipia nating tasol”.
These funds must be folded back into the public system for the betterment of health and education services.
Further, what is a District? An administrative throwback that cuts across multiple language, tribal, clan and community boundaries where allegiance is generally only to one's own community.
I would suggest a good part of the problem is the conflation of government administrative structures with political reality. While central, provincial, district, local level and ward structures may suit administrative purpose this structure in no way reflects traditional interests or governance structures.
To borrow an Australian Yolngu term there has to be a Makarrata, a rethink of the system from the basic units of governance upwards as to how the best of both systems might be melded into a something that produces parliaments that best represent national and community interests.
And I would suggest this is urgently needed as part of a major soul searching exercise to arrive at something that represents the essence of what it is to be a Melanesian nation in a contemporary world.
Posted by: Stephen Charteris | 12 August 2022 at 01:03 PM
OK, here goes…..
The basis of the problem is systematic. It is not government by the people, for the people. PNG’s Parliament is however ‘of the people’.
Hands up who remembers how the electoral system worked prior to 1975? Olaman! Mipla lapun tasol.
Who knows and understands how a system of village and clan leadership worked prior to the system imposed on PNG prior to 1975? Look around and understand.
What exists today is the nomenclature of a Parliamentary system that was in operation prior to 1975 but in reality, a traditional PNG village and clan structure actually in place.
Can you have a combination of the two systems? Early PNG political leaders thought so. Yet there still appears to be a disconnection between how the electoral system worked and how to ensure it could be continued?
Those of us lapuns who have a deep and abiding respect for the PNG nation and its people have been very unhappy with the way things have gone. Why? Because we could see how it was happening but were not listened to by those who wanted power.
Yet real power is a very ephemeral thing that can in reality, be a ‘will of the wisp’. You can’t see power, you can only see the effects on people. It’s a bit like the definition of spiritual belief referred to in the Bible. You can’t see the wind but you can see the effects it makes.
In order to build a house that won’t collapse in the first guria, a builder must start from the very foundations. It’s the same with any system that is intended to work. Either the basis of the system is sound or it will fail.
Prior to 1975, every effort was made by the PNG government to visit every village and settlement and ensure the Electoral rolls and Census books were updated on an annual basis. When the time came for an election, eligible voters were recorded as having voted.
This didn’t happen by mere thought. It happened because there were enough dedicated government people to organise how it happened and to make sure the system worked.
Can anyone now say that this happens today? No way. Therefore, how can anyone expect an electoral system to work effectively and fairly?
Why is there still consternation being expressed over the results? The answer is really simple.
Either you have an electoral system that is funded and properly managed and a subsequently elected Parliament, or you have the present system where an escalated village political leadership has taken over.
Posted by: Paul Oates | 12 August 2022 at 09:18 AM