Recently, a couple of letters appeared in the newspapers making references to the number of political parties in the country and also making references to the effectiveness of the policies of political parties, writes Dr ALPHONSE GELU
I, AS the registrar, felt obliged to respond to these letters by pointing out certain aspects of the nature of political parties in Papua New Guinea and to highlight the issues on the number of parties and the effectiveness of the parties.
For the concerned individuals that raised these issues, it is important to firstly understand what kind of democracy PNG part is of.
Democracy is a relative term to describe the status of a country according to the adaption of the major elements of democracy and how these elements are operationalised in our country.
The same goes for other countries that see themselves as being democratic.
The major tenants of democracy include; free and fair elections, civil and political rights, civil society and transparency and accountable government.
These tenants of democracy basically covers the main areas that would make a particular country democratic or not.
And this can be done through the now famous audit of democracy, a tool that has been used widely determine the extent and level of democracy within a particular country.
Many scholars had also given and written about other tenants of democracy which included pluralism, universal suffrage, responsible and accountable government, etc.
For PNG, we are known as a “developing democracy” which implies that our democracy is still developing.
We have not reached the mature state of democracy that some other countries enjoys.
Our institutions are still developing, our system of government is still developing, our elections still needs major improvements, rights and freedoms of our citizens still needed protection, our people still need to be empowered, information needs to be available to our people, our system has to promote inclusiveness etc.
And of course, as relevant to our discussion, our party system is still weak and fragile.
A weak and fragile political party system is a major feature of a developing democracy which PNG fits in very well.
The party system that we have has features that clearly shows a need for more improvement to our party system.
Some of the features of our party system includes: no membership base throughout the country; Port Moresby-based; executives ineffective; not visible throughout the country; exclusive organisation with little membership of women; weak party structures; weak constitutions; no loyalty from its members, especially in Parliament; controlled by one person; does not have adequate funding, parties not factor that influence voter choices; policies are weak; and, no clear ideological stand etc.
These factors have greatly affected the effectiveness of political parties in the country.
Looking at the trend of party development, we started off with a few political parties in the 1970s but now have more parties in the country.
Currently, we have 46 registered political parties.
And 22 of them have MPs in Parliament while the rest do not.
Many that don’t have MPs had contested elections since 2002, 2007, 2012 and 2017 and have not won any seats.
Some do not endorse candidates in the elections but request winning candidates to join them.
Some even endorse only one person as a candidate.
Some of these practices employed by political parties in PNG defeats the whole purpose of forming political parties in the first instance.
The motives behind the registration of these parties are not clear and based on some parochial values and outcomes.
The dilemma the Registry of Political Party faces is that our Constitution allows for citizens to form or belong to, or not belong to political parties as stipulated in Section 47: Freedom of Assembly and Association.
As a result of this, the registry has allowed citizens to form political parties which have seen a drastic increase in the number of political parties.
The Organic Law on the Integrity of Political Parties and Candidates (OLIPPAC, 2003) has even contributed to the rise of political parties due to the provisions recognising a political party once it goes through the normal processes/procedures for registration.
The registry is very much aware of the increase in the number of political parties and has instituted number of measures to address this.
One of this is encouraging smaller parties to amalgamate as allowed for in the law.
In the Revised OLIPPAC (2017) that would be going before the NEC by the end of the year, the registry has inserted new provisions that would indirectly decrease the number of parties.
This include making parties to endorse 10 per cent of candidates from the total number of seats in Parliament, endorsing 20 per cent of women candidates, enlisting 2,000 membership throughout the country, establishing four regional party branches, renewal of registration after every two years, keep a database of membership and the registry to check on this, etc.
These are measures that if parties do not comply with, they will end up being deregistered thus, decreasing the number of political parties in the country.
In terms of registering a new political party, the registry allows citizens to do this but in recent years has developed this approach of requesting the individuals intending to form a new party to submit five of its main policies which must be different from the existing registered political parties.
This practice has made many people to walk away because they could not identify five policies that are different from the existing 40 plus political parties.
The registry is, therefore, working on this issue in terms of the numbers of political parties.
But one thing for sure that many people do not understand is that for many countries who are democratic have far more political parties than PNG despite them having a two party system.
In terms of working closely with political parties to address the inherent weaknesses in the party system, the registry since 2013 implemented a programme called the “Learning and development workshops”.
This is a capacity building programme that the registry initially partnered with the Centre for Democratic Institute based at the Australian National University.
Trainers were brought in to facilitate training for the party executives.
In 2015, the registry did this on its own with the registrar as the main trainer or facilitator for the programme.
This programme ran on a quarterly basis from 2013 to 2017 up to the national elections.
Many party executives benefitted from this programme and it was all funded from the budget of the registry.
The trainings that the registry ran included; importance of parties in a democracy, party systems, strengthening party structures, roles of the executives, book/accounts keeping, developing relevant party policies, purpose of party conventions, use of volunteers, importance of enlisting membership, establishment of party branches, establishing women and youth wings, campaign strategies, fund raising, endorsement of candidates and so on.
All the aspects of strengthening parties and building the capacities of the party executives were all covered.
The registry was well supported by the Liberal Party Australia and the Australian Labour Party (ALP).
But it was the ALP that assisted the registry to cover the entire learning and development programme for political parties.
They brought in party officials from the different states in Australia to share their experiences in managing their political parties.
To conclude, the registry is very much aware of the number of political parties in the country.
The registry is working to address this issue through the OLIPPAC but more so with the Revised OLIPPAC that once it is approved by the NEC would indirectly have an impact on the number of parties in the country.
At the same time, the registry has worked closely with all the parties, those with MPs and those without MPs in rolling out capacity building programmes.
The executives have benefitted from these programmes and many are using what they learned to help improve their parties and also improve their duties.
The registrar has other work programmes that it had identified through its annual work plans and will roll out.
However, the registry does face massive financial constraints to roll its activities out especially in the areas of district awareness on political parties and secondly on the mentoring of women candidates in preparation for the 2022 national elections.