A prayer for peaceful elections

Editorial, Normal

The National, Friday 14th June 2013

 DESPITE money problems leading into the local level government (LLG) elections, nominations have been very peaceful so far.

Soon, however, the excitement will begin when the candidates pit their talents against each other on the  campaign trail.

With a lot more money going directly to the districts and the councils, the pressure to get into this level of leadership has suddenly turned very attractive. 

Many senior civil servants have resigned their jobs to contest the president’s seat in their respective districts.

This is where it can turn very nasty. 

Unlike the national election where a leader’s support is spread throughout a district, ward council elections tend to divide people along familial and clan lines.

It introduces tension in close-knit communities and villages. It has the potential to tear asunder the very basic building block of the nation at the family and clan level.

The concept of a secret ballot at this level is farcical. Everything is very transparent. Everybody knows whose side a person is on. 

Come polling day in next month, supporters often march to the polling booths with their respective candidates in a show of strength. 

This is particularly true in the volatile highlands of Papua New Guinea.

Often animosities that develop from these elections take a long time to heal and sometimes never.

Elections in coastal regions are often more peaceful affairs and a fair degree of personal choice holds sway.

We call upon the Government to undertake a nationwide study after it has ended to see how the LLG elections affect communities.

If, as we suggest, elections are found to produce dangerous tension and a breakdown in community peace and harmony, perhaps other forms of representation might be introduced for the future.

A system whereby the national and provincial governments select ward councillors could be one such option.

Leadership at the community level for aeons have always been apparent. 

Leadership emerges almost automatically in the minds of the community through certain traits a person might exhibit. 

Selecting a person along those lines might be better and less dangerous than the current elections which are introducing violence, bribes, undue influences and other forms of corruptive behaviour at the community level.

The presidents can be elected as their mandate would come from a wider cross section of the community but councillors for each ward ought to be selected by the government. 

This is being done for village court magistrates and peace officers now so it is nothing new.

For the present, however, we can only appeal for calm and common sense to hold sway in the coming days.

We take heed of the wise counsel of veteran councillor in the Western Highlands and Deputy Governor Wai Rapa.

He has told young candidates to stop name-calling and dabbling in defamation of character and concentrate more on their policies and what they see as important issues that they wish to put on the development agenda for their wards.

Finally, we commend the female candidates taking the field to challenge for leaderships roles at this level.

At the same time we are aghast at the deafening silence by the National Council of Women and the Women in Politics advocates.

It would appear these two groups are more interested in placing representatives in Parliament but not at council chambers around the country.

This is a pity and it is a terribly wrong strategy. People must see the female leader at work among them.

Parliamentarians are not as visible as the councillors.

If more women can get into leadership roles at the ward level, there is more chance that the people will grow to appreciate women’s leadership and vote for them to represent them at higher forums such as Parliament.

We pray the next few weeks will see common sense prevail and the peaceful conclusion of the elections in the country.