WHEN a controversial Papua New Guinean politician like James Yali is allowed to nominate whilst being “under a sentence of imprisonment for more than nine months”, anybody can.
There are many legal qualifications on the constitutional right to stand for public office but the real challenge is enforcement. Mr Yali’s situation was a recurrence of a known controversy hence it was brought to light quickly. However, many others who would have been disqualified had the relevant authorities firmly enforced the law.
Until such is improved, there is no guarantee that the legal process will churn out refined leaders for public office. The ultimate decision rests with the people to identify and elect the honourable candidates.
The public office that each of the 3,332 candidates is vying for is an honourable office and only the honourable are qualified to occupy it. It is not for rogue people. But it is quite a challenge to identify and elect honourable people.
The political views held by many Papua New Guineans are influenced by their cultural structures and values, religious beliefs, levels of understanding and poverty driven opportunism.
These are factors that distort proper judgement of a leader’s capability for public office. We have a politically pliable population that can easily be subdued by the workings of these factors. And candidates, trying to sell themselves to voters, skilfully craft their language to distort the truth in ways that are difficult for even the most careful observer to detect.
In this article I want to debunk the myths and illusions about public office. The intention is to enlighten voters to identify and elect the “ideal candidate” for leadership in public office.
Election is not a process to produce leaders. It is a process available to voters in a representative democracy to identify the ideal candidate amongst contenders.
A godly Christian leader?
The Christian tag is a sellable one because PNG is predominantly Christian. To convince voters to buy into their campaign policies, candidates often hold themselves out as god-sent. The Bible does provide examples of how God appointed political leaders and I believe He still does today in His own divine ways, which are always higher than ours.
The leading figures in the Bible like Joseph, Moses and David had some exposure to the privileges of power before being entrusted with the responsibility to lead. This points me to the view that God would not be reckless in entrusting someone with leadership responsibilities without first trusting that person. Trust is built on experience. Christ himself also warned us in the Bible about those who would come as sheep in wolves’ clothing.
One of the most common Christian tagged campaign promises is an allocation of a 10% tithe out of public funds. One should ask the proponent of that promise whether he pays his personal tithes faithfully to his local church –for he cannot promise credibly for what he is not himself.
And by the way, there is no such provision in law or the Bible for public funds to be apportioned as tithes purportedly for God. The Bible calls for Christians to tithe individually to their local churches as their act of worship.
The Bible does not impose a duty on governments to tithe to local churches for the upkeep of the clergy and day to day church operations. The practice around the world is for governments to partner with churches mostly in the provision of social services such as health and education. Therefore, those who promote a 10% tithe ideology promote the breaching of both the Bible and the law. It may also be viewed as a disguised form of election bribery.
Another related confusion to debunk here is the failure to distinguish between faith in God and His divine workings on one hand, and mythical beliefs.
People plucking numbers such as “40” and “7” and claiming that these are ‘God’s numbers’ that will bring good luck both individually and as a nation are not genuine. What the country needs is authentic leadership, not numerologists who place their faith in numerical patterns purportedly drawn from the Bible.
Many Christians allow their political views to be distorted by their beliefs. Dr James Dobson, a renowned Christian figure in America, was taken to task by the media last year about Evangelicals supporting Donald Trump, who has got many unChristian character flaws. Dr Dobson’s response marks the distinction we all should adopt. He said, “We are electing a commander-in-chief, not a theologian-in-chief”.
Indeed, the ideal candidate is not going to be a pastor, evangelist, prophet, teacher or bishop. Sometimes people tend to set their focus so high that they do not find anyone possessing all those Christian attributes. In the circumstances, they throw away their votes in hopelessness. It would be a blessing to have Godly people in Parliament. Remember, PNG’s parliament has been graced with so-called Christians and clergymen in the past but have they not failed?
In the American case, very many Americans are sceptical about the choice of President Trump; only time will tell whether the Evangelicals made a mistake.
The Evangelicals made the decision to elect a candidate who, among the contenders, demonstrated he could not be easily corrupted. Once they’ve done their part in electing him, the rest is left in the care of the system of formal checks and balances.
The candidate occupies a political office where he will be exposed to money and power. These are dangerous tools that can make or break a person. So, if God was in your shoes, would He not trust the person before providing him with these tools.
Apart from the Christian regalia, you must assess whether the candidate is capable of running an honourable office. If he claims he will fight societal evils, does he demonstrate a track record of doing so? Look beyond misguided Christian illusions and find a person who is built to withstand the temptations associated with power and money. Christians are called to open their eyes and pray lest you fall into temptation in trying times like this.
God is not an excuse for deliberate human failures. God inspires Christians through His Word to act appropriately and if they fail to live accordingly, one cannot then turn around and say God is somehow missing in the equation.
It is human beings who have failed both God and us. Christians should prayerfully and diligently find humans who will not fail us this time.
A Melanesian big man leader?
The people we elect are the representatives of the people in parliament. Our expectations of them and their obligations towards us is structured around them representing us. But there is a conceptual difference between a Melanesian big man leader and an elected representative to Parliament.
Many of our people expect that a political leader is the one who takes the frontline in participating and contributing towards customary obligations such as haus krai, compensation, bride price, moka and so on.
Unfortunately all these expectations can distract our MPs from attending to their core duties as legislators. They feel obligated to be in front of everyone else in distributing largesse to voters.
There is a wave of big-heartedness in PNG around election time and every candidate has suddenly become generous. Many candidates distribute cash, goods and other largesse as a way of demonstrating their leadership capabilities.
Instead of marketing their policies and debating issues that matter, candidates get bogged down competing in attending to all these customary ceremonies and obligations. Whilst this may be appealing in the Melanesian context, it is not a useful method to identify a leader capable of public office. Such generosity may also be viewed as a disguised form of election bribery.
This Melanesian ‘big-man-in-front’ syndrome, as I call it, has also captured the formal systems of government service delivery in PNG. MPs have established a meddlesome system where they are actively involved in everything from policy and law making to frontline service delivery –they want to be seen in front of it all.
This political patronage of service delivery has been one of the main contributing factors that has not only eroded the boundary between politicians and administration, but rendered the bureaucracy weak and dysfunctional.
The ideal candidates PNG needs now is not another Melanesian ‘big-man-in-front’. PNG needs leaders who understand the limits of their power in a state structure. The ideal representative is not one who will keep his mouth shut to collect a pay cheque. He needs to be the voice of the voiceless majority.
The ideal candidate is not the one who provides momentary goodies and largesse to maintain his front-line image, but one who has a strategic focus on improving the living standards of his people.
A relative or tribal candidate for leadership?
Another aspect of our cultural values which undermines free and fair elections is tribal solidarity.
Although the law grants individuals the right to vote for the candidate of their choice, that right has to be exercised in a polling booth established at a selected location within a tribal community (metropolitan centres may be an exception). If there is a candidate from the tribe or of the tribe’s choice, though he may be a rogue the first choice is tied to that tribal choice.
To maintain harmony and unity in the tribal community, one is placed in an inescapable situation where it is necessary to vote against personal convictions because those who vote against the tribal choice are as seen as traitors. In a way, this undermines the rights granted in our Constitution.
The three choices preferential voting system we have now is an antidote to this and has so far worked well. If the first vote is tied to tribal choice, the second and third choices can be distributed to candidates preferred out of free will.
This also explains why some candidates lack leadership credentials but have strong base votes to perform well in elections.
The ideal candidate for leadership in public office is not a tribal representative of a predominant tribe. The votes should demonstrate that the MP was the preferred leader of the electorate.
The ideal candidate for leadership
The ideal candidate does not have to be a perfect leader, no one is as perfect as God, but someone who demonstrates a strong character. What he says he is must be who he is, which gives us the assurance of who he will be.
Character and competence are attributes of an authentic leader and that is the ideal candidate we are seeking. The ideal candidate may not be politically skilled but has the attributes of an authentic leader.
The ideal candidate does not necessarily have to be someone who is highly educated –although that is a bonus – but someone who is competent enough to understand the limits of his power within the state structure.
He must possess the appropriate level of competency to know how to lead within the context of an organisation and must have the ability to adapt with time, industry and place. As a member of parliament in the 21st century, he must be able to bring some level of intellectual rigor to the fore when it comes to debating laws and policies.
The ideal candidates we should seek are altruistic leaders –those who display a consistent and genuine motivation to live for others against their personal interest.
Sometimes leaders have to take risks and, if a candidate claims that he or she lives by a particular set of values, discover whether he or she had taken a risk to be true to those values.
We should not make the same mistakes again by electing supine leaders who are morally weak when it comes to standing up for what is right for the country and its people.
So it’s election time and we are seeing many aspiring politicians parading in front of the masses asking for their support.
There are a lot of opportunists out there who display an appealing image but lack substance and it is my hope that this article enlightens voters to depart from distorted political views, inclinations and biases and vote for candidates who display distinctive leadership traits with unmarred credibility and competence to become effective leaders in public office.
Source: Post Courier | Edited by Keith Jackson - PNG Attitude Blog
This is well expressed and I wish this message is well disseminated to the bulk of the citizen of PNG wish to vote for money and not for quality leadership.
Posted by: Jimmy Awagl | 10 May 2017 at 04:28 PM
Upturn lip, candidate grinning, unflinching; upsurge cost unsighted, unheard, unimagined.
Posted by: Lindsay F Bond | 10 May 2017 at 11:39 AM
Ah Michael, now you resorted to alliteration. Is there nothing you can't do?
Perhaps you should have nominated?
Posted by: Paul Oates | 10 May 2017 at 08:41 AM
Thank you Sam Koim, I enjoyed reading this article.
It is a timely and well thought message.
"The ultimate decision rests with the people to identify and elect the honourable candidates."
"The political views held by many Papua New Guineans are influenced by their cultural structures and values, religious beliefs, levels of understanding and poverty driven opportunism."
But, "PNG is predominantly Christian"...?
Rather, Pengens subscribe to Christianity. That's a different think.
The bigmen should remain in the bigman system because that is where they wield the power to make all MP's answerable to their people. Usim het blong yupla!
Dealing with tribal allegiances is more difficult because it is PNG's realpolitik. LPV does some good, but.
As for the ideal candidate...Pengens already know this kind of person. We cal them 'ol trupla-man', and the title is given despite class, position or power in society.
Go to any community and people generally agree on the 'trupla-man na trupla meri long komuniti'.
But these 'ideal candidates' are often ignored at voting time if they don't provide money or accept bribes.