Many knights enter PNG polls fray

CAMPAIGNING for the 2007 PNG national elections is underway and should prove one of the most fascinating since independence in 1975. By Brian Gomez

For the first time, the outcome will be decided through limited preferential voting and judging from past experiences, well over 90% of the victors for the 109-seat parliament will need second and third preference votes.

Even though it may seem easy enough to predict where primary votes might go due to tribal loyalties, even this has not been a fool-proof way of predicting outcomes, since 60% of candidates are normally voted out.

Because of the Organic Laws on the Integrity of Political Parties and Candidates passed by former Prime Minister Sir Mekere Morauta, the current Somare Government has managed to survive for a full five-year term for the first time.

It appears that some of the key parties are boasting a more solid and united front because of the way the Integrity law works and the expectation that once in government, or in the opposition, things are largely likely to stay that way.

There is the usual slate of high-profile candidates and the unexpected re-entry of former Prime Minister Sir Julius Chan means that all four living ex-prime ministers will contest this election at the head of various parties.

It seems that some 35 political parties will contest this election compared with 43 in 2002, when 10 of the parties did not win a single seat.

The highest profile parties are Sir Michael Somare's ruling National Alliance, erstwhile Treasurer Bart Philemon's New Generation Party, Sir Rabbie Namaliu's Pangu Pati, Chan's People's Progress Party and Morauta's PNG Party.

At this stage, it seems that Philemon's newly formed party may be the only one to contest more than 100 seats, with National Alliance said to be putting up 95 candidates.

The best outcome in terms of future political stability and sound economic policies is for the next government to be made up of three or four political parties rather than the norm of 10 or more.

The multiplicity of political parties in a coalition government leads to incessant jockeying for ministerial positions and other perks of office, and more attention to politicking than national affairs.

The mood of optimism regarding a brighter future, after a lacklustre performance over the past three decades, has encouraged three high-profile ex-judges to enter the political fray, including former Chief Justice Sir Arnold Amet.

The highly respected Amet, a lifelong advocate of transparency and good governance, was invited by outgoing Health Minister Sir Peter Barter to contest his Madang Regional seat.

Although he will fight under the National Alliance banner, Amet will face an uphill battle against a dozen or more other candidates.

Another judge who is contesting, Sir Kubulan Los, recently stepped down from the National Court as the second-longest serving judge in the country.

Besides his 24 years on the bench, Los is a former secretary of the Department of Transport and a former PNG ambassador to the United States.

Possibly the highest ranking private sector personality to contest is Sir Henry ToRobert, until recently the chairman of Credit Corporation, arguably the country's most successful locally owned and managed company.

ToRobert, an economist, is a former head of the nation's Central Bank. Like either Amet or Los, these three knights of the realm have the right leadership credentials for ministerial office, or even for position of prime minister.

Philemon's NGP is fielding a youthful Greg Maisen to run against Somare in his long-held seat of East Sepik Regional and Maisen has been quoted as saying he is confident of beating the "Chief", as Somare is popularly known.

At this stage, a betting person would suggest the tussle for the most number of seats and the right to the position of prime minister is probably between National Alliance and Pangu Pati, with NGP a dark horse that can upset either party.

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