Dr ALPHONSE GELU outlines the importance of political parties in PNG and why it is important to promote them.
PAPUA New Guinea is part of the global family that adopted democracy as its ideology.
As such pluralism is one of the defining features of democracy. Pluralism describes a system whereby the centre of power is not confined to only one source but is scattered among different competing sources.
In democracies, the state is just one of the sources of power and has to compete with other sources which are equally powerful and important to politics.
In mature democracies, the trade union movement or workers movement are equally powerful, as well as the business community and other pressure groups such as those on environment, the entertainment industry, the sporting community, etc are equally powerful.
Political parties are also important sources of power as a result of their policies that gather support and mobilise the people to vote for their policies.
In PNG, the state has to compete with other sources of power mainly the tribal groupings that we have as well as landowner groups and so forth.
Tribal groupings become had powerful during elections and the manner in which they mobilise themselves makes them equally powerful against the police and military that provides security during the elections.
One important source of power that needs greater recognition is the political parties in the country.
Why it is important then to promote political parties in the country to make them relevant and meaningful to the people?
A very simple answer to that is because political parties according to the Organic Law on the Integrity of Political Parties and Candidates (OLIPPAC) form governments in the country.
That has been evident after the 2002, 2007, 2012 and the 2017 national elections.
The people of this country must now know that when the country goes for the election, they would be voting for a party to form the government – thus, that is the party that would win the majority of the 111 seats in Parliament.
Beside parties forming governments in the country, other reasons why it is important to promote political parties in the country include;
- Parties are weak on many fronts – structures, membership, funds, loyalty. These areas needed to be strengthen;
- parties can be the mouth piece for the people if they are strong and meaningful to the people;
- parties can be held accountable by the people in terms of their performance in office and the outcomes of their policies;
- parties have been around since the 1960s and have not developed to an expected level to make them strong institutions;
- parties being responsible for instability and weak governments. Once strengthened they can become institutions that would maintain strong and responsible executive governments; and,
- Parties are democratic institutions that should represent the interests of all the citizens including the women.
An important question that the people must ask themselves is, “are they voting for a party that would form the government or are they just voting anyone of their choices?”
From empirical evidence, it is the second proposition that describe the reality of voting in PNG.
The people cast their preferences on whoever they think is their candidate of their choice.
Hence the people’s mandate stops there.
It does not extend into which party should form the government.
The formation of the government is the elected MPs sole doing and the people have no say over that.
This act of voting behaviour also renders parties irrelevant to the people.
There is a need to now make the political parties in the country relevant.
The formation of governments is an area that needs greater scrutiny and improvement in the country.
The mandate given to a party must come from the people and not by the elected MPs themselves.
It is because of this reality, that the Registry of Political Parties in the last 4 to 6 years has been working hard to promote the political parties in the country.
The first initiative the Registry undertook was the rollout of the Learning and Development Workshop.
This was an initiative targeting the General Secretaries of the political parties.
The General Secretaries are the key personnel within parties and the plan was implemented to build their capacities in managing their parties effectively.
The plan was rolled out from 2013 to 2017. A total of over K2 million was used to train the party’s General Secretaries.
The General Secretaries were the recipients of the training because those that have MPs in Parliament are on fortnightly salary. The training was initiated to make them learn new skills and to implement them and most importantly for them to rightfully earn their salaries.
The plan was initially facilitated by the Centre for Democratic Institutions based at the Australian National University (ANU) from 2013 to 2015 and was later taken over by the Registrar as the main facilitator.
The topics covered in the plan enriched many of the General Secretaries.
They ranged from designing and reviewing party policies, selection of candidates, support for women candidates, raising funds, basic book keeping, roles of parties, how to prepare well for elections, campaign plans, campaign strategies, voting system, etc.
The Australian Labour Party became the main partner in this initiative.
The Liberal Party also came on board on several occasions. Beside these two parties from Australia, the UNDP also assisted financially in a number of forums.
The second initiative was the design and roll out of the theme, “Know Your Party” “Vote Your Party”.
This initiative was the beginning of the actual promotion of political parties in the country.
A number of activities followed from this theme;
- Printing of flags party flags
- printing of information on all the registered parties – leaders, policies, addresses, etc
- printing of party logos; and,
- Printing of booklets on political parties, candidates, registration of parties, policies of parties, mandate of the Registry and other promotional items.
The third initiative was the use of the radio to promote the political parties.
The Registry went into partnership with the National Broadcasting Corporation (NBC) to promote political parties.
Air time was given to party leaders to promote their parties.
This activity took place a year before the 2017 national election.
The fourth initiative was the roll out of the Political Party Expos.
The first took place in November 2017 in Port Moresby.
All parties were invited but only about 15 took part.
The main aim of the expo is to allow the parties to make them visible to the public and to allow the public to sign up as members of the parties.
A number of party leaders turned up to support their parties – Sir Julius Chan, Patrick Pruaitch, Garry Juffa, Bryan Kramer and Sam Basil.
The second party expo took place in Madang in June 2018, again a number of parties joined the Registry in the expo.
The expo in Madang was attended by Peter Yama and Kramer.
The third party expo was held in Lae in June 2018 and former Morobe Governors Kelly Naru and Luther Wenge also attended.
The Chief of Staff for the Prime Minister’s Office, Eddie Jondi Mike also attended.
The expos in Madang and Lae were funded by the UNDP office based in Suva with support from the UNDP office in Port Moresby.
These two expos also allowed the public to sign up as members of the parties that were present.
The new theme the Registry developed after the 2017 election is “Know A Party” “Join A Party”.
The aim of this theme is to allow and get the people to know the political parties and to join the parties as financial members.
Parties needed a support base of supporters to be in a better position to win votes and seats in elections.
Prior to the party expo in Lae, a forum was organised jointly by the Registry and the UNDP Suva Office for the parties in supporting women contesting the national elections and the LLG Elections. Experts were brought in from New Zealand, Fiji, and the Netherlands to share their experiences with the officials present and the women participants.
The fifth and the most recent initiative undertaken by the Registry to promote political parties is the district awareness on political parties. The first district awareness took place in Sumkar and Bogia in October/November 2018.
The staff from the Registry visited the different communities in the two districts and conducted awareness on the importance of parties, roles of parties and information on parties in the country.
The staff were also able to recruit supporters on behalf of parties which were handed over to the parties to enlist in their database.
In November of 2018, a number of staff including the Acting Registrar attended the Kenu-Kundu Festival in Alotau to promote political parties and handed out information on parties to the public.
The Registry also managed to enlist membership for the parties.
The Acting Registrar appeared on NBC Milne Bay to promote the visit in Alotau and also took time to speak to students at Hagita Secondary School.
All the initiatives that the Registry has rolled out since 2013 up to now is to promote political parties in the country.
The main aim of this initiative is to strengthen the relationship between the people, the parties and the formation of the government.
This initiative requires a transformation in the attitude and values of the people by making the people to think more about parties rather than on the candidates.
This would allow the people to have direct control and say on which party should form the government rather than leaving this process to the elected MPs.
The biggest challenge for the Registry is the funding from the government.
The funding has not been coming and this is the biggest problem faced by the Registry.
The rational of making political parties relevant through the promotional activities of the Registry is a process that should be of interest to all.
The Registry is only attempting to strengthen the law relating to the formation of the government and how the people should have a say in the formation of governments in the country.
Another important challenge is for the party leaders and followers to believe in the party.
They cannot only do this during elections, but all throughout the life span of the party.
They must show commitment to the party and to support the party in its outreach programmes.
They must not wait for someone else to tell them what to do.
They have to do things on their own accord and initiative.
I have spoken about the electoral cycle – the next election is in 2022, political parties must now be
halfway into whatever activities
they are doing to promote themselves.
We cannot continue to be complacent but to become active in promoting our parties.
As the Registry sees it, there is no positive sign coming out from the 45 political parties.
Only a couple have had their conventions after the 2017 national election.
The rest have not and this is disappointing.
How would they know what happened in the 2017 election? Should the executives remain or should there be changes? Is the policies of the party relevant? These are issues that needs to be dealt with in the conventions.
There is still a greater need for parties to expose themselves in the country.
Parties must become relevant to the people.
The people must know about them and the parties must continue to show themselves.
This would bring about positive signs to the political development of our country and to which the Registry is committed to.
- Dr Alphonse Gelu is the Registrar of Political Parties