Does paying for campaign rallies amount to bribery?

By Alan Bird, Governor of East Sepik Province

Is it possible to bribe the voters?

I see some smart commentators talking about transport, food and drink being provided by candidates at rallies saying it’s wrong and constitutes bribery.

First of all, I don’t believe our voters are stupid. Certainly not in Sepik. Sepik voters are mature, they will accept transport, food and drinks from ALL candidates who provide it and it will not influence them. They will still vote for the candidates of their choice.

Sepik voters want to know if the person they are electing will not only deliver on goods and services but will also stand in Parliament and speak for them. They have very exact standards of who they want. This is my experience over 3 elections. This is my 4th election.

Perhaps in NCD or Lae, supporters can catch a bus to a rally, spend an hour there and return home on the next bus. This is not so in ESP. For a villager to attend a rally for a candidate can mean catching a PMV at 7am, not having breakfast and returning home at 7pm just to hear a 20 minute campaign speech. Naturally they expect the candidate to pay for the transport and provide a meal. Why should they pay to attend 20 rallies if there are 20 candidates?

Alternatively, candidates have to go to each village. Even then, every village has a stage set up to be hired by candidates. They also have several string bands or singing groups ready to perform for a fee. They will also have a mother’s group ready to cook food which the candidate has to pay for.

The other peculiar thing in ESP is that supporters of a candidate will build a “Campaign House” for him/her. Then they expect the candidate to provide tea/coffee/sugar so they can sit around and talk politics for the entire campaign period. This is the hard one, do you say no to all the campaign houses built in your name without your consent? If one village supports 5 candidates, they will build one Haus each per candidate! My immediate village has 8 campaign houses right now (for open candidates and one for me).

When an NGO or government has a training workshop, consultation or other activity, participants are provided transport, meals, accommodation and allowances. This could cost around K500 per day for each participant. If a villager is expected to attend a rally and not his cocoa or vanilla garden and has an expectation of free transport and a biscuit and drink costing K3, surely that is not an unreasonable expectation for his or her 12 hour day?

People talk about bribery alot and I suppose it happens. I have never experienced it myself but say I need 12,000 votes to win an open seat. Each voter asks for a K100 bribe and I pay it, that’s K1.2m, say you buy 12,000 T shirts at K20 each, that’s K240,000. Say you need fuel, posters, a hire car, you get campaign coordinators, etc, and that’s another K200,000. These are crazy numbers.

Elections are not cheap. If you have a budget of K500,000, that will only cover your logistics. It’s hardly enough to bribe 12,000 voters.

In the case of a Provincial seat, it’s much more expensive. I received 88,000 votes in 2017. If I bribed my voters at K100 each it would cost me K8.8m. The person who came second scored 64,000 votes so if he bribed them too, he would have had to spend K6.4m.

The smart move would be to bribe the polling officials and the security officers. Less people to bribe and it’s much cheaper. They can then do something illegal to get you declared. But then is it worth spending 8 years in jail for that?

Many people who have never run a campaign have no idea what it costs to run one.

So give our voters some credit, our people are not stupid. They know what they are doing.

Don’t compare Michael Somare’s PANGU with James Marape’s PANGU

PANGU save lo rot, or PANGU knows the way, is a motto made popular by the late Sam Basil. It’s a reference to PANGU Pati, led by the late Michael Somare, that attained independence for Papua New Guinea in 1975.

In 2014, Sam Basil moved to PANGU Pati, which didn’t have any MP in parliament, and became its leader. He then led PANGU into 2017 elections, winning 11 seats nationwide (later increased to 16 when other MPs joined). He invoked PANGU’s historical place in PNG as the party that led PNG to independence. As a strong critic of Peter O’Neill at the time, he argued that PNG had lost its way, and needed to be guided back to the destiny intended by its founders – the forefathers of PNG. He used the motto “PANGU save lo rot.”

By 2019 Basil left PANGU, and those resigning from O’Neill’s People’s National Congress then joined PANGU, electing Marape as the prime minister.

PANGU under Marape continues with the motto “PANGU save lo rot.”

However, it’s important to know that to date PANGU has done nothing to show PANGU knows the way. It’s merely riding on the legacy of men like Somare and Pita Lus, and many others who have passed on.

PANGU under Marape knows how to get loans up to K30 billion in just three years! A PANGU that failed to capture tribal warlords who slaughtered 17 women and children in Eastern Highlands in 2019. A PANGU that watches as women get burnt alive for sorcery accusations.

Before parliament dissolved for elections, PANGU led a coalition that comprised of MPs accused of corruption and did nothing about it.

In the coalition were MPs accused of the corrupt multi-million Kina Manumanu land deal where governor ministers used state money to buy land they privately owned at inflated costs for the state.

There were MPs who have not explained why the expensive Maseratis were bought for the 2018 APEC in Port Moresby but not used. The Masaratis are now wasting away in a garage in downtown Port Moresby.

MPs who spent millions on “yoga” program are part of the coalition.

PANGU of this day is not the same PANGU that led PNG to independence.

In fact if PANGU was led by its current Marape and the current MPs, PNG would not have attained independence.

The level of compromise in the name of maintaining MPs alleged of corruption in the coalition is not something Pita Lus (a PANGU strong man) would have allowed. This PANGU knows how to entertain MPs alleged of corruption in the name of remaining in power. It’s a power hungry PANGU.

“PANGU save lot rot” is a phrase only true for historical purposes. Michael Somare’s PANGU knew the way to independence.

Now under James Marape, “PANGU ino save lo rot.” PANGU doesn’t know the way under James Marape.

Don’t confuse Michael Somare’s PANGU with James Marape’s PANGU.

Case for female candidates: PNG Election 2022

Some of the female candidates for 2022 election

Of the 983 PNG MPs elected since the first post-independence election in 1977, only 7 were female MPs. You’d hear voters say: female candidates should have good leadership qualities, have good policies, or they should be elected on merit. These are all good expectations.

But here’s the problem:

We’ve used these criteria for 47 years. We’ve elected 976 male candidates on merit, who had good policies, and great leadership qualities.

Where did that leave us after 47 years? What is there to show for our insistence on “merit, quality, and policies?”

How many can confidently point to a political party and state their policies? I’m not talking about useless mantras like “PANGU Save Lo Rot” or “PNC4PNG”.

How many can at least pick a PNG politican who has not switched sides at least once in his lifetime? What is policy if there are no commitments to policy?

How on earth do you elect leadership on merit for 47 years and still be consistently corrupt on Transparency International’s Corruption Perception Index?

How can you have a parliament full of leaders voted on great quality who then end up grossly misusing DSIP & PSIP funds (constituency development funds)?

There’s nothing much to show for merit, great qualities, or policies, is there?

You won’t lose much by voting a female candidate. The alternative is another male candidate with policies he doesn’t intend on keeping, qualities that he will ditch during government formation two weeks after election, and merits that are only useful in concealing corruption.

Aren’t you tired already voting male candidates? After 47 years of terrible results, what more excuse is there not to vote a female candidate? Definitely you cannot hide behind good policies, merit or qualities.

Maybe female MPs will be just as corrupt as male MPs, but what’s not new to us?

Or they will re-marry after being elected and change their surname: isn’t that what many male MP do anyways (re-marrying)?

Or they will get into a screaming competition with the airhostess, but again, is that worse than millions wasted on yoga deals?

Is there any good argument left for not voting a female candidate?

Some faces of PNG female candidate..

Don’t be fooled: O’Neill & Marape are brothers

Former PM O’Neill (right) & current PM Marape (left)

When addressing a crowd of Pangu Pati supporters on 27 May 2022 in Morobe Province, James Marape challenged People’s National Congress (PNC) leader and former PM Peter O’Neill, and his supporters to show to the country what they have done for Lae and Papua New Guinea during eight years in office from 2011-2019. Marape invited O’Neill to a debate.

O’Neill responded by saying that Marape landed at the Nazab Airport in Morobe Provicince which is been upgraded. The upgrading was an initiative of O’Neill government. The road Marape rode on into Lae town was upgraded under O’Neill government. The main hospital – ANGAU Memorial Hospital – just down the road from where Marape was speaking is been upgraded. An initiative under a deal O’Neill negotiated with partners.

Supporters of PANGU and PNC are divided across the country. Photos circulated on social media of youths burning PANGU banners in the Highlands, and four vehicles belonging to an incumbent PANGU MP and government minister burnt in the Highlands.

In all these debates, alternative facts and show by both Marape and O’Neill this fact is lost: that O’Neill & Marape are brothers.

Both men were in the same government and members of the Peoples National Congress (PNC) from 2012 to 2019. That’s eight years!

Every mess that Marape blames O’Neill for, Marape is an integral part of it. Every credit that O’Neill gives PNC and himself, Marape is part of it. When O’Neill talks about the developments under PNC, he is talking about developments that Marape was part of. When Marape criticises O’Neill of bad loans and corruption, Marape is part of it. There is a YouTube video online where Marape viciously defends the unconstitutional UBS loan under O’Neill government at UPNG.

The only people who are not seeing this fake morals are the followers and voters who blindly think Marape is different from O’Neill.

Both men have subjected PNG to close to US$ 50 billion loans in eight years. Both were responsible for 14 unconstitutional amendments to the Constitution between 2012 and 2018, including the extension of grace period and the Manus Detention Centre.

The Supreme Court ruled most of the amendments unconstitutional. This should tell you about these men’s disregard for the Constitution of PNG.

What you’re witnessing is the ego of two Highlands men, who are preying on the emotions of uncritical voters. Marape is as power hungry as O’Neill. Remember how Marape “bribed” Prauitch to drop the court case challenging his election as prime minister by offering Prauitch the Foreign Affairs Minister’s position in 2019? Marape had to take that ministry away from another MP to give to Prauitch so Prauitch could drop the case against Marape!

Or how about Marape accepting Basil back as Deputy PM after Basil’s failed attempt to remove Marape as PM in November 2020? How could you make someone who wanted to replace you as PM your deputy unless you are obsessed with power and want to stay in power?

So fellow Papua New Guineans, don’t be fooled by these two power hungry guys, who have a history of mocking the PNG Consequences, and running the debt of this country into historical heights.

The PM’s post has to move away from these two men. You can do that by using the facts above, and others, to convince your friends and families not to vote PNC and PANGU endorsed candidates.

You have power to make a change. You won’t get that power back for 5 years. Make it count.

This is a quote from a candidate contesting the Sohe Open in Oro Province is a message to all:

“Check your products before purchasing. Refunds are done every five years.” Stephen Kila Pat

Do young people who contest PNG elections understand politics?

Many young people are contesting the PNG 2022 national election. Some have graduated a few months ago with their university degrees, whilst others have been working for just a few years.

Young people in PNG have been politically active since independence. The likes of former Prime Minister Pias Wingti left his studies at the University of Papua New Guinea mid-way and contested elections and won. Julias Chan was only 28 when he became the first finance minister of PNG. Michael Somare was barely past his 30s when he led PNG to independence.

Some of the current politicians like Gary Juffa, Alan Bird, and Powes Parkop were at the forefront of student-led protests during their days at University of Papua New Guinea (UPNG).

This trend continues – where students develop ambitions during the many protests against the government during university studies, and then go for elections. It is not uncommon for former university students to tell the populace during elections that “I fought for your rights” and got shot at by the police. Several UPNG students have even contested the Port Moresby Northwest seat during the semester break (elections fall during semester break in PNG), failed to get elected, returned and completed their studies!

There is a distinction to be made between what we are seeing now, and the past generations.

Julias Chan and Michael Somare era was different because in their generation, they were about the only educated Papua New Guineans we had.

Gary Juffa, Alan Bird and Powes Parkop went into private and public sector, proved their worth, gained the necessary experience, and entered politics.

Unlike the 1970s and 80s, we already have an educated population and are in no desperate need for young graduates entering politics. And if you wonder why Gary Juffa is an effective orator or why Bird is so in delivering services, it has to do with experience.

There is a concern.

Many of the young people who contest the election see politics as the only way they can make a difference in their communities. In fact they see politics as the answer to all the questions. Phrases like “everything rises and falls on leaderships” is so manipulated and grossly abused in PNG.

This misconception partly has to do with what PNG politics has evolved into: that politics is about money. If you have money, you can solve about any problem in your community.

PNG Open MPs get K10 million in DSIP funds annually which they spend largely at their discretion. The Governors get K5 million multiplied by the number of districts in their province – annually.

Most PNG politicians don’t see themselves as law makers. The people don’t see them as lawmakers either. The MPs are seen as walking ATMs. Everything from haus krai contribution to health centres is the role of the MP.

You hardly hear candidates campaigning about the 370 colonial laws that are still applicable in PNG (according to Constitutional Law Reform Commission) and how to reform it.

Young people have a right to contest elections. But the twisted view that politics is the answer to everything is troubling. That leadership means occupying a political office is twisted. That you can only make a difference if you’re MP is a delusional.

In one of my Facebook posts, I posted this:

“… The day our musicians become international stars, our sports athletes win Olympic medals, our rugby, soccer, cricket teams start winning international trophies, our entrepreneurs and products become international brands, our literatures are made into movies, and our novels make the New York Times best sellers… is the day the number of PNG candidates who contest the elections will drop. At the moment, politics is the proven way one becomes rich and popular. Kids from a young age are introduced to three months of non-stop election frenzy. When they grow they want to be politicians. And the circle goes on. 2000+ candidates. Over a billion spent nationwide. All for what?…”

Politics is seen as how rockstars are made (Juffa, Bird, Kramer). Politics is seen as where all the answers lie. Politics is associated with leadership in the exclusion of other arenas. It’s a twisted view, and it needs to change.

It’s unfair not to say that some young people do understand elections as a process of getting elected to make laws. The main role of politicians. And they see a genuine need for political representation for their communities. The rant above doesn’t apply to you. In PNG, politics turns good men into evil men. Keep your hearts pure.

Alan Bird on Chances of Costal Prime Minister in 2022

East Sepik Governor Alan Bird

By Alan Bird

How to become PM in PNG

I see the strong comments from young Sepiks and other coastal citizens for a coastal PM. So let me share my observations on whether this outcome is indeed possible and what it would take to achieve it.

There are three ways someone can become PM:

  1. the first is obviously a party leader of the party that gets the highest number after the elections getting the invitation from the GG after the 2022 elections.

GC Somare had this opportunity in 2002 and 2007. Peter O’Neil had that opportunity in 2012 and 2017.

It’s also possible for like minded parties to form a block and vote against the ruling party in August and nominate their own PM. But this has never occurred previously and the chances are slim.

  1. Through a vote of No Confidence as we saw against PNC in this term of Parliament where Marape was elevated. This is much more difficult because it takes a very special leader who is well liked or regarded as less destructive than the incumbent.

Marape became PM because most MPs and the country was fed up with PNC and he was the most likeable choice among the contenders.

The choice of Marape was also driven by the fear of not letting PNC or O’Neil back in. I believe most PNGans are afraid of letting PNC back into government. Certainly after the burning of the PANGU flag in Southern Highlands last week, I see many coastal communities fearful of what that means for the country. In Sepik the last few days, I have seen rising fears of the dangers of a PNC led government.

  1. The third way of becoming PM is to steal it by breaking the Constitution like many leaders did in 2011. Again, the chances of this are slim.

So which coastal party leaders have the charisma and the attraction to become PM in 2022 and what are their chances?

Patrick Prauitch & National Alliance

National Alliance Party of which he is leader won 15 seats in 2017. NA is likely to win between 15 and 20 seats this time around.

To get the invitation from the GG, history tells us the magic number is 27. If NA does not get 27, we will need a coalition and that coalition will depend on Hon PPs ability to negotiate with other party leaders. Notably PANGU which NA has an agreement with. The other like-minded partners are URP, People’s Party and National Party and other smaller coalition partners of the current government.

Lekwa Gure & United Labour Party

ULP has an opportunity with their 4 MPs and with the tragic and unfortunate loss of their charismatic party leader, Hon Basil. But they will also need to win 27 seats or a significant number to have a chance.

Charles Abel & Our Development Party

ODP has two MPs and is likely to form an alliance with PNC if they get the numbers. Again, they face similar challenges to NA.

Other Costal Parties

All other coastal one man party leaders like Maru, Kramer, Namah, Juffa and others will need to win greater than 15 seats to have an opportunity.

The only party to do that from nowhere was PANGU in 2017 under the late Hon Basil. Such a feat is unlikely to be repeated but stranger things have happened.

From the above and given our history, it’s likely and obvious that the two main players will still be PANGU and PNC. So all candidates who win seats in 2022 will need to pick between the above parties.

To our young upcoming leaders, the key to getting a PM from another region lies in supporting candidates who are well liked nationally and who can form alliances with others. Building parties takes time. Building alliances takes time. Gaining national popularity takes time. These things will not occur in one term.

My suggestion is that you stick to the party or leader you like best and help build them up and wait for the opportunity. While miracles do happen, let’s not count on it. In the meantime, don’t make derogatory statements about the leaders and behaviors of leaders from the Highlands. They have their own ways of behaving and we have ours.

While we value humility and respect for one another and we behave accordingly, let’s not go the way of our Highlands friends and start doing things with violence or burning flags or using guns to win elections.

I encourage young coastal leaders to continue to behave in ways that best represents our values. Good behavior is not a sign of weakness, it is a sign of great strength. Let the ballot box speak.

A coastal PM will come when we have a leader who can pull support from all corners of the country and when the nation is ready for it. Making negative and inflammatory statements will not help to make that happen.


Women Candidates: Avoid un-winnable seats

Oro Governor Gary Juffa: RNZ

I once listened to a talk about challenges women face in elections. The case study was on the Oro Provincial Seat of 2017. I am from Oro so I listened with interest. I was disappointed at the end because the findings were not a good reflection of Oro politics.

The study suggested that the female candidate, Jean Parkop, Powes Parkop’s wife who came second lost because she was a woman.

This couldn’t be far from the truth.

Jean Parkop lost because she contested a seat whose incumbent MP was Gary Juffa. The Gary Juffa of 2012 – 2017 was so popular that it was impossible for any candidate to win against him. Jean Parkop did not lose because she was woman. She lost because she was up against the most popular PNG politican. Juffa was so popular he could have won the National Capital District seat if wanted to contest it.

How popular was Gary Juffa in Oro Province?

This story will put things into context. The day after nominations open in Oro Province, my cousin drove into town. He saw the posters of Oro Candidates up on public walls and shops in town, but Gary Juffa’s poster was not among them.

Curious he asked by-standers why Gary Juffa’s poster was no where to be seen. One of by standers who resides in town said:

“As soon as Juffa’s posters went up, youths, kids, parents, street guys, mothers, fathers, ripped them and took them home. They want to put it on their houses, shops, trucks.”

Everyone wanted a bit of Gary Juffa. People who never met Juffa personally, but wanted to associate themselves with Juffa.

One of the things you must do if you have ambitions to contest seats in PNG is to be realistic about your chances of winning, but also the chances that the incumbent will lose. If the incumbent is too popular, you probably shouldn’t contest the same seat.

You cannot win a seat held but Alan Bird, Tom Lino, Justin Thackenko, Peter O’Neill, James Marape, Richard Maru and perhaps John Rosso in 2023.

Yes some of these leaders are corrupt and should be replaced. Unfortunately majority of the voters in their electorates have a different criteria on who they think is deserving of their votes. And these voters views matter. They get to decide who becomes the MP.

Follow politics through out the five years. Do your homework. Do your ground work. But also be realistic about your chances of winning. This goes for both male and female candidates, but more so for the female candidates. Because when the election is over, we will be arguing about why women didn’t win the election – not the other way around.

Avoid unwindable seats.

A man confident of his record: Alan Bird’s nomination speech

East Sepik Governor Alan Bird

The PNG incumbent politicians are seeking re-election. Generally there are two narratives in their campaigns.

The first group tell their voters why they didn’t deliver services (for non-PNG readers, PNG politicians are enabled by law to provide services apart from their law making duties).

This first group blames O’Neill or Marape, depending on whether they were in the opposition with O’Neill or in the government with Marape, for the failure to deliver services. O’Neill was the prime minister from August 2017 – May 2019, and was replaced by James Marape, who served from May 2019 to 2022. O’Neill moved to the opposition after he was replaced.

This first group blame just about everything except their own failures, mismanagement, misuse and corruption.

The second group pay their nomination fees, turn to their supporters, and tell them:

“If you liked the job I did, give me the mandate to serve you another term”.

The likes you find in this second group includes Alan Bird, Richard Maru, Rainbow Paita, Dr Tom Lino (and the late Sam Basil). No excuses. No blame game. Just records to prove or disprove their claims.

Below is the speech Alan Bird (of the second group) gave after his nomination. Alan Bird is the incumbent governor for East Sepik.

By Alan Bird:

“I nominated yesterday quietly in Wewak because I didn’t want our supporters clogging up the traffic like we did in 2017.

Today morning we launch our campaign in Maprik. Simply because there are only 24 candidates nominating for Maprik Open seat. Friday is also a quiet day in Maprik so we can clog up the streets.

We are planning for 40-50,000 supporters to come and support National Alliance and PANGU. This will be the largest gathering in Sepik history.

I wish all intending candidates the best and let’s support a free and fair election. Let’s do this without violence. I shook hands and wished several Regional Candidates good luck in the elections this afternoon.

It’s been a great honor representing and speaking on behalf of the Sepik people. I know I won’t please everyone. I have never required Police escorts to travel the highways.

When I stop and people greet me, I know that I am doing the right thing by ordinary Sepik folks. I thank you all for your support.

I have a simple message for our people: you can trust me to look after your future. Let me finish what I started in 2018.

I have not stolen any money and none of my family or relatives have received a single government contract since my election. I have also brought record amounts of money to our province.

The future of the Sepik people is safe in my hands. I have always made decisions in the interest of ordinary citizens.

My only interest is in moving the Sepik Region forward by supporting the hard working rural people so that every citizen has an equal opportunity. Sepik should be for all of us, not just the privileged few. This is how we can contribute to our country.

By making Sepik strong and self sufficient. That is our vision. We are strong people, we like to work for ourselves and this is what we have been trying to achieve.

I ask you all to trust me once more and let me finish what I started in 2018.

Transparency, honesty and public service to empower our people and local government. That’s what I stand for.

Yupla save pinis lo mi, yupla lukim mi pinis. Mi fight hard lo yupla pipol blo Sepik na Papua New Guinea wantaim. Givim mi spear wanpla more taim na larim mi pinisim wok mi startim.

Thank you na Maulu tumas.
Statement by Hon Allan Bird.”

The End!

As I said before, National Alliance’s (NA) chances of forming the next government will rise if NA leadership is given to Alan Bird.

Is there anyone good left in PNG?

PNG MPs waiting infornt of PNG parliament to receive a foreign leader

The average incumbent MP turn over rate in PNG is 50%. In other words, about 50% of MPs lose their seat every election. This has been the case without exception since the first post independent election in 1977. This turn over rate is one of the highest in the world.

2002 is considered the worst election ever, where more than 70% of the MPs lost their seats, and elections in six seats in Southern Highlands were declared failed because of the widespread irregularities.

The high turn over rate shows that Papua New Guineans have no problem with replacing leaders they don’t like. But the 50% voters choose to replace the 50% voted out are no better than those voted out. With a very few exceptions.

This begs the question: are there any good people left in PNG to choose from?

Why is it that despite the high turn over rates, the next cohort elected to the parliament do not improve governance in the country?

Out of the 180 countries Transparency International’s Corruption Perception Index always ranks PNG below 100 annually (1 being the least corrupt).

If the representatives (MPs) voters choose form turn out to be inherently corrupt, does that imply that the society is inherently corrupt? Or at least pervasively corrupt with a few exceptions?

It’s hard to argue otherwise. It seems to be that PNG leaders, selected from among their own people, by their own people, turn out to be corruption. The society itself has to be so corrupt for one to pick predominantly corrupt representatives.

Facing up to an uncomfortable possibility that the country is pervasively corrupt is important for the country to begin to move the conversation beyond the 111 MPs, to start to talk about the everyday corruption in everyday life.

As the late Prime Minister Mekere Mourata put it, corruption in PNG is systemic and systematic. Meaning corruption is pervasive and organised.

It’s not few people doing the wrong things. It’s most people doing the wrong things.

Coming to work late and leaving early. Spewing betel nut along the corridors of the buildings. Using the office printer to print your sunburn’s volleyball draws. Giving the job to your wantok over a more qualified candidate. Contracting your inlaw to mend the office fence at the work place. Buying stationaries from your tribesmen company which is more expensive than the shop down the road. These every day less corrupt practices breeds the grand corruption that you fight against. It is not possible for you to be engaged in these “petty corruption” and expect to elect a good leader.

Every Papua New Guinean has a responsibility to improve his own life. To become less corrupt. Only then do we stand a chance of choosing good leaders.

It’s the society, not the leaders, who are corrupt. Because leaders are selected from among the people.

Bel Sore (Sympathy) votes and Sam Basil’s United Labour Party

Late Sam Basil, founder of United Labour Party. PC: EMTV

There were many tributes written about Sam Basil, including one by Sam Koim, the Commissioner of Internal Revenue Commission, which was re-published here.

In this article, I will talk about the impact of Sam Basil’s passing on the political party he formed in 2020 and was leading into the 2022 elections before the tragic accident that took his life – The United Labour Party (ULP).

The nationwide outpouring of mourning and sympathy for Sam Basil is only second to Sir Mekere Mourata and Sir Michael Somare in 2020.

There is a difference though. Both Somare and Mourata were former prime ministers (PM) well into their old age. Sam Basil, on the other hand was young, and had the ambitions to become prime minister. He was a life full of potential, taken too young.

This outpouring of sympathy has an immense impact on candidates endorsed by United Labour Party. The profile of the party has shot up astronomically since the death of Basil on 11 May 2022.

Orange, the ULP colour is dominating PNG social media. Those who have not heard of URP, or didn’t care about URP before, are now hearing about it on a daily basis.

On 16 May multitudes were waiting at the Jackson’s International Airport drapped in PNG flags, Morobe flags (Sam Basil’s province) and orange shirts and hats, as they waited Sam Basil’s body to arrive from Morobe.

There’s a three days National Haus Krai (mourning) at the John Guise Indoor Stadium where people from all walks of life are coming to pay their respects. The stadium is draped in orange. Even the ULP candidate for Port Moresby’s name was announced during one of the performances which he organised for the mourning. He got a national televised publicity whilst other contestants are waiting for 19 May 2022 to start campaigns when the nominations open.

Getting a free national coverage during events like this is not unique. But in PNG, there’s an added layer.

Death and mourning is a very significant moment. It’s a time where arguments are resolved, mistakes of the past are forgiven, and support comes from those you expect the least from.

How do these moments translate into political capital?

Take Dame Carol Kidu as an example. Whenever you have the chance to speak to Carol, ask her how she got elected in 2002. She will tell you she won because of “sympathy votes.” This is a loosely translated phrase from the Tok Pisin phrase “bel sore” vote. Out of compassion and sympathy for your loss, people will support you, including voting you.

Carol Kidu’s husband Sir Buri Kidu was the first national Chief Justice of PNG. He was expected to contested the Port Moresby South electorate in 2002 where his village Hanuabada is located. He unfortunately died in 1994. Carol Kidu then contested the seat in 2002 to fulfil her husband’s ambitions. And out of “sympathy” or “bel sore” for her husband, she was elected. Carol then had to work hard to get political support to get re-elected in 2007 on her own merits. She retired from politics in 2012.

With all due respect, Sam Basil was not popular since 2017 when he switched from opposition to O’Neill led government. This was because since his election to parliament in 2012, Sam Basil was a vocal critic of Somare Government (2012 – 2011), and O’Neill Government (2012-2017). Basil was synonymous with anti-corruption, and was tipped to be the next prime minister.

This support was evident in the success of PANGU Party in 2017 election. PANGU at the time didn’t have any MP in parliament, so Basil left his party at the time – PNG Party – and took leadership of PANGU and led it into the 2017 election. He emerged with 14 MPs, a respectable number in a parliament that has 111 MPs, and where no party gets more than 30 seats.

Basil then tried to form the government but failed, and O’Neill’s People Congress Party with 28 MPs formed the government. Basil then did the unthinkable. After briefly remaining in the opposition, towards the end of 2017, he took PANGU party MPs and moved over to join the O’Neill Government.

It was at this point that he lost the popularity among Papua New Guineans. When the government changed in 2019, Basil played his cards and got the deputy PM post.

Then in 2020 he left his deputy PM seat and attempted to remove James Marape as PM. When this failed, he returned to his position as deputy PM along side James Marape.

Basil again lost the respect among many Papua New Guineans. ULP was not that popular among Papua New Guineans for these reasons. Many saw Basil as lacking integrity for constantly switching alliances. This was until a few days ago when Sam Basil lost his life in a car accident.

Now with all the sympathy pouring in, Sam Basil’s candidates will enjoy similar success to that of Carol Kidu in 2002. Sympathy votes will increase ULP candidates chances of winning. There are three preferences in PNG elections. In many places, voters will express their “bel sore” with one of these preferences by voting a ULP candidate.

When I first posted a short extract of third article on Facebook to get a reaction, many commented with phrases like “that was what I was thinking.” This means it’s a popular opinion. Interesting if it translates into reality.

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