The Contemporary Pacific 15.2 (2003) 457-463
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Papua New Guinea
In the year 2002 Papua New Guinea was dominated by the general elections and the continued downturn of the economy.
In the first half of the year, the entire government and public service virtually stood still as political parties and other aspirants prepared for the June elections. By early March, it was clear that the leading contenders were the National Alliance (NA) led by the country's first prime minister, Michael Somare (better known as "Chief"), and the ruling party, People's Democratic Movement (PDM), led ostensibly by Mekere Morauta but in reality by Paias Wingti, another former prime minister. While strong personalities rather than parties have dominated PNG politics since independence, this time there was an attempt to strengthen the hand of political parties via legislation. Late in 2001, a new law, the Integrity of Political Parties and Candidates Bill, had been promulgated, barring candidates who stood under the banner of political parties in the forthcoming election from switching their support to another party or individual during the vote for the prime ministership. The new law also gave to the party with the largest number of elected members of Parliament the first right to nominate for the prime minister's post, thus preventing the previous practice of putting together a coalition of convenience on the floor of Parliament to elect a new leader. A total of forty-two political parties registered for the election, but in reality many were "mosquito parties," established by those wishing to try their luck, to satisfy their ego, or simply to serve as a front for other parties. More than three-quarters did not even win a seat.
The election itself turned out to be a major embarrassment. Like previous elections, planning for this election was wholly inadequate, with the problem of an "unclean" Common Roll dominating complaints. The most generous analysis of the Common Roll suggests that there were more than a million ghost names, out of a voting population of about two million. Even Prime Minister Morauta unsuccessfully tried to stop the election via the courts on the eve of nomination. The first sign that the election machinery was in trouble came on the first day of voting in the capital, when more than half of the polling booths failed to open or opened late in the afternoon. By the end of the first week of voting, it was clear that the election could not be conducted according to the timetable. The original plan had been to conduct polling in selected provinces before moving to others until the whole country was covered, but with delayed polling in the first few days it became evident that the plan was falling apart. After several court references, the governor-general signed papers for the election to be extended. There were loud calls for the immediate sacking of the electoral commissioner. An extraordinary press release from Morauta asked the public to report the whereabouts of the electoral commissioner, because the prime minister could not locate him to discuss the running of the election. This item became the lead story on EMTV news, the only local television station. [End Page 457]
The campaign style in this election was somewhat different from 1997, when the Sandline Crisis became the "killer issue"; there was no single overriding issue in 2002. To win, parties and individuals resorted to the usual mixture of local and national issues, bribery, threats, and cheating.
The People's Democratic Movement's main thrust was its policy of "free education for all." It also trumpeted Prime Minister Morauta's supposedly strong handling of the economy, especially the stabilization of the kina, the national currency, which had gone into freefall during the term of Morauta's predecessor, Bill Skate. The National Alliance, meanwhile, campaigned hard against privatization and in opposition to the PDM policy of selling major state-owned enterprises such as Telekom and other public utilities. Since independence, all the major state-owned enterprises have been systematically stripped by corruption and political interference, leaving many either in bankruptcy or insolvent...