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Election Time in PNG

Do bear with me for what might appear to be a digression before I tell you about elections in Papua New Guinea. I call it context.

Many years after I left PNG, where I lived from 1989 to 1991, I was at an regional aid donors meeting which was attended by representatives from the World Bank and the International Monetary Fund (IMF). Papua New Guinea was represented by its Ambassador to the country hosting the meeting.

The gentleman from the World Bank got up and (in the most diplomatic of terms) indicated that PNG was the most corrupt country he had ever had to deal with. The gentleman from the IMF went a step further indicating that it was, without doubt, the most corrupt country in the world and that aid donors should seriously consider withdrawing support. Before he completed his rather blistering rebuke the PNG Ambassador, in a most undiplomatic manner, banged his fist on the table and poured forth a string of expletives leaving in no doubt what he though of both the World Bank and the International Monetary Fund. He then assured those assembled that PNG was one of, if not the, least corrupt countries in the world.

A few months prior to the meeting and just before Christmas I had asked the Ambassador, whom I knew fairly well, if he would be returning to PNG for Christmas that year. “Good God no, I hate the place, so bloody corrupt and backward’ or words to that effect was his reply. The Ambassador represented his country well on the world stage a few months later.

PNG is, without doubt, one of the most corrupt countries in the world and that corruption starts right at the top – with the politicians – and filters down. Those who can’t benefit from corruption resort to crime which makes it also one of the most unsafe countries in the world.

It has always sickened and disturbed me that one of the most beautiful and resource rich countries in the world is one of the most corrupt and unsafe where to rich get richer and the poor remain poor. Thankfully, for reasons outside control of the politicians, very few people starve in PNG. I have always said that if PNG could rid itself of corruption and crime, tourism in the remainder of the South Pacific would die as everyone made a beeline for PNG, which has everything the other island countries has, plus a whole lot more.

So not that you have some context, back to elections in PNG (and I am talking about elections for the National Parliament in Port Moresby though it is equally applicable to provincial elections as well – just a matter of scale). Bearing the above in mind, elections are serious business and becoming a politician is a ticket to immense wealth and a status unimaginable to the average Papua New Guinean. Certainly when I lived there, becoming a Member of Parliament entitled you to a vehicle (a top of the range Toyota Landcruiser was the (only) one of choice) and a very large allowance of non acquittable funds ‘for constituency use’. The property market in Cairns and further down the east coast of Australia benefited more from these constituency allowances than the Members’ constituents in PNG.

Given these, and many more, benefits the buying of votes was normal practice as was intimidation of other candidates and their supporters Electioneering was big business – I doubt if this has changed.

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It was not uncommon for tribal mobs to march (often rampage) through highland towns, in particular, supporting one candidate or another – the one that had paid them most or made the biggest promises in terms of their later personal gains. While these mobs sometimes wore traditional dress and frequently carried spears and bows and arrows they generally did not cause that much trouble (though there were exceptions).

My attached pictures depict some electioneering activity I encountered in Goroka. Visitors encountering this sort of activity should remain bemused bystanders. Even if trouble arises neither side has any interest in involving tourists. Tourists remain the domain of pickpockets and rapists.

About a year after I arrived in PNG I, with a couple of friends visiting from the UK, encountered some election activity in Mt Hagen which certainly had my friends worried at the time – see my separate review on this – Making the vote count.


This blog entry is one of a group (loop) of entries based on a couple of years living and working in Papua New Guinea. I suggest you continue with my next entry – Making the vote count in Mt Hagen – or to start this loop at the beginning go to my introductory entry – Papua New Guinea – Personal Memories.


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