Some PNG Election 2012 Results are Guaranteed
Electoral outcomes in Papua New Guinea are always challenging to predict primarily due to the high turnover of Members of Parliament (roughly 50% of sitting MPs are not returned) and also because of the now-expected legal tussle over the legitimacy of some results post-election.
When it comes to predicting the government coalition which will be formed, and the next prime minister, the task is almost impossible to conjure up before polling begins.
Even during polling, the severity of the numbers game and the chopping and changing of political commitments and alliances, which from a party perspective will need to fit the framework of what parliament may look like after the declaration of results, all add to the complexity of accurately forecasting outcomes.
In addition, the importance of the ever increasing number of Independents – 2,186 in this election – is the mother of all wild cards. Successful Independents in the past have been chased the length and breadth of PNG to be courted then cornered to help make up the numbers of a new government, usually achieved with the seduction of a ministerial portfolio.
And there are some outstanding Independents in this election, most notably former Acting-Prime Minister and now disillusioned party-man Sam Abal, who is re-contesting Wabag Open.
With talk surfacing that there may be a joining of forces of “like-minded” successful Independents, and if indeed this is achieved, the bargaining power of this group may be the difference for aspiring political parties being in government or opposition.
But even in this ocean of uncertainty and sea of “ifs” and “maybes”, there are some electoral resultss which can be accurately predicted.
We know for instance that that there will be a new member each for Port Moresby South Open and Port Moresby North-West Open courtesy of two political giants, Dame Carol Kidu and Sir Mekere Morauta, retiring respectively.
We also know that there will be a new face for Kokopo Open due to Patrick Tammur’s (of Sir Rabbie Namaliu-beater fame) untimely death after Christmas 2011.
In addition, a new face for Kerema Open is guaranteed after sitting MP Pitom Bombom also passed away earlier this month. (Bombom suffered the humiliation of being ‘beat-up’ by his own people, including a spear wound in the back, when he tried to celebrate PNG’s 35th Independence celebrations in Kerema. It just so happened that it was also his first visit back to his electorate since winning the seat three years earlier).
Both deaths occurred within six months of a general election and thus did not trigger by-elections.
We will welcome another two new faces to parliament, with the inaugural governors of PNG’s newest provinces, Jiwaka and Hela, waiting to be declared. Their election will add an extra two seats to what will now be a 111-member House of Representatives.
There will also be a new face for Angalimp-South Waghi Open after incumbent and one of PNG Party’s Deputy Leaders, Jamie Maxtone-Graham, opted to join the race to be the first governor of Jiwaka Province.
Similarly, the lure of being the first governor of Hela Province sees Anderson Agiru leave a vacancy in his Southern Highlands Regional seat too – another new face is guaranteed here. If both are successful, then it will be a case of old faces in new positions.
We also know that the party that brings home the highest number of winning candidates will be invited by Governor-General Michael Ogio to form government. The margin of difference is important here due to the large numbers of possible coalition alternatives.
The higher the margin, the stronger the chance a party has of securing support to form government. Convention dictates that the leader of the party that manages to do so will be the next prime minister.
When it comes to specifically predicting electoral winners in PNG, one walks a tightrope – a good indication of this is that I can only confidently predict two electoral winners:
Current Prime Minister and People’s National Congress leader Peter O’Neill will be returned to parliament as MP for Ialibu-Pangia. In 2007, O’Neill faced six candidates. He is now facing seven – and all different too. In addition, O’Neill’s key 2007 political rival Roy Yaki has opted not to contest 2012, but to instead support O’Neill to win back his seat and the prime ministership.
PNG Party’s other deputy leader, Sam Basil, will also be returned as MP for Bulolo Open. The first-term MP beat 33 candidates in 2007 and his popularity is telling, with only 18 opting to stand against him now.
Basil will be one of the most important players in this election, because if Belden Namah is upset by PNG Greens Party leader Dorothy Tekwie in Vanimo-Green as looks possible, then the leadership of PNG Party will be handed to Basil pending fellow deputy leader Jamie Maxtone-Graham’s challenging task to be Jiwaka’s first governor.
As PNG officially heads into polling tomorrow, the stage is set for what will be an enthralling political game leading to the formation of our ninth parliament since Independence.