In the latter half of the 1990s, there was considerable dissatisfaction within PNG about the country’s lack of social and economic progress and growing problems of lawlessness and corruption, and growing criticism from outside. On becoming Prime Minister, Morauta vowed to address these issues and ‘to restore integrity to our great institutions of state’. A major plank in his government’s reform platform was an Organic Law on the Integrity of Political Parties and Candidates (OLIPPC). A secondary measure was an amendment to the Organic Law on National and Local-level Government Elections to change the electoral system from one of first-past-the-post voting to one of limited preferential voting.
In each national election in PNG since 1972, there has been a steady increase in the number of candidates contesting, notwithstanding an increase in the required fee for candidature in 1992, from K100 to K1,000 (then roughly equal to per capita GDP). While some of these candidates might have been put up to split the local vote of a rival candidate in another clan or another part of the electorate, with voter support being localised there are often several candidates with a good chance of winning if they can hold their support base together. There has also been a fairly steady increase in the proportion of candidates who have stood — at least overtly — as independents. These developments have had at least two adverse effects on elections: first, with the number required for victory sometimes relatively small in open electorates with many candidates, holding one’s bloc together is critical, and this has encouraged voting irregularities and violence in parts of the country, especially in the Highlands. In 2002, this caused the declaration of failed elections in six of the nine electorates in the Southern Highlands. Secondly, with many candidates competing, the percentage of the total vote that winning candidates have obtained has been, on average, steadily falling. Concerns about these issues lay behind the OLIPPC.
After widespread public consultation, organised through a Constitutional Development Commission, and parliamentary debate, the OLIPPC and associated constitutional amendments were passed in December 2000 and came into force in 2001, in time for the country’s sixth post-independence elections. In a foreword to an explanation of the proposed legislation by the CDC, Prime Minister Morauta described the initiative as ‘the most important Constitutional change this country has made since independence’. Its broad objectives were to strengthen the party system and help return stability and integrity to politics.
The OLIPPC contains four main provisions.
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Political parties must be registered with the Registrar of Political Parties, an office created under the OLIPPC and independent of the Electoral Commission. An unregistered party cannot nominate candidates for election. Parties must submit details of membership and a constitution, and provide financial returns on an annual basis. Membership is not to be confined to people from a particular province, region or group and the party must not encourage regionalism or secession. Party offices are to be ‘elected in a democratic manner’ (spelled out in the legislation). Party members must be paid-up, and a person cannot be a member of more than one party. Provision is made for cancellation of registration (inter alia, if a party fails to file financial returns for two consecutive years), for dissolution of a registered party (where a majority of party members or 75 per cent of party MPs agree), and for amalgamation of registered parties. In addition to the Registrar, the OLIPPC set up a Central Fund Board of Management (renamed Commission on the Integrity of Political Parties and Candidates), whose membership comprises the Registrar, the Electoral Commissioner, the Clerk of the National Parliament, the chair of the National Economic and Fiscal Commission, and church and women’s representatives. The board appoints the Registrar and is responsible for dealing with registration applications and management of the Central Fund. By August 2001, 43 parties had registered (though not all had supplied the necessary documentation).
Funding of parties and candidates
The OLIPPC established a Central Fund, from which parties receive public funding. The sources of income available to the Central Fund comprise an annual appropriation from the national budget and (unlimited) contributions from citizens, international organizations and non-citizens. The allocation to parties is on the basis of K10,000 for each elected MP. In 2003, the Central Fund Board of Management approved the distribution of K990,000 to 20 parties, at the same time complaining that ‘The government has miserably failed to adequately fund the Board and its Secretariate [sic]’.
In addition, registered parties and candidates can receive contributions from citizens and non-citizens of up to K500,000 in any financial year, in each case — a somewhat generous provision, especially considering that the Constitution in 1975 precluded non-citizen contributions, and the CDC initially recommended a limit of K100,000. The donor and the recipient are required to provide details of such contributions to the Registrar, though there have been complaints that the Registrar has not been fully informed. Successful candidates are also required to submit a detailed financial statement within three months of election.
Strengthening political parties in Parliament
Probably the most important provisions of the OLIPPC were those intended to prevent ‘party-hopping’. Under the organic law, a Member of Parliament who was elected as a party-endorsed candidate cannot withdraw or resign from that party during the life of the Parliament (unless he/she can establish that the party or an executive of the party has committed a serious breach of the party’s constitution or that the party has been adjudged insolvent) and cannot vote against a resolution of the party concerning a vote of no confidence, the election of a Prime Minister, approval of the national budget or a constitutional amendment (a member can, however, abstain from voting). Contravention of this provision is regarded as resignation from the party and sets in motion a series of procedures that can culminate in the member having to reimburse the party for all campaign and other expenses received from the party, exclusion from appointment as a minister or committee chair, or dismissal from Parliament. A member elected as an independent can join a party after the initial vote for prime minister, and then incurs the same obligations to the party as a partyendorsed candidate. A member elected as an independent who remains independent, but who supported a particular candidate in the vote for prime minister, must not vote against that candidate or his/her government in a subsequent vote of no confidence, nor against a budget brought down by that government, nor against a constitutional amendment proposed by that government.
These provisions were tested in December 2003, when the Somare Government, already facing threats of a vote of no confidence, sought to extend, from 18 months to 36, the grace period within which an incoming government was free from a vote of no confidence. The proposed constitutional amendment was defeated, but several parties split over the issue. Some members who voted against their party leader defended themselves by arguing that there had not been a formal party resolution on the issue. The issue has not to date been resolved.
The OLIPPC also provides that, after an election, the Head of State shall invite the party with the greatest number of endorsed candidates elected to form a government and to nominate a candidate for election by the Parliament as Prime Minister. This was intended to minimise the post-election lobbying that had produced the ‘lock-ups’ after earlier elections. In 2002, this probably gave an advantage to Somare, as leader of the NA, and Somare was duly elected Prime Minister, but it did not eliminate the post-election machinations and it did not necessarily ensure a victory for Somare.
Incentives for female candidates
In an effort to address the massive under-representation of women as electoral candidates and in the National Parliament, the OLIPPC provided that where a party-endorsed female candidate received at least 10 per cent of the votes cast in her electorate, the Central Fund would reimburse up to 75 per cent of the campaign expenses outlaid on her by the party. In 2002, the number of female candidates (mostly independents) rose from 45 to 74, but the number elected fell from two to one, and only received 10 per cent of the vote.
Before the 2002 national elections, 43 parties had registered with the Registrar for political parties, though many of these had very small membership and, on the eve of polling, a number had not provided the Registrar with the required list of candidates. In the event, with ‘failed elections’ declared in six seats in 2002, 24 parties were represented in the new Parliament: the NA with 19 members, PDM 13, PPP eight, Pangu six, PAP five, People’s Labour Party four, nine parties with two or three members and another nine with one member each. Seventeen candidates were elected as independents. By December 2003, the number of parties had been reduced, through amalgamations, to 18. As the leader of the party with the most winning candidates in 2002, Somare was invited to form a government, and he was subsequently elected Prime Minister by a vote of 89 to nil, with 14 members abstaining. The PDM, under Morauta, joined the small Opposition group, subsequently changing its name to the Papua New Guinea Party (PNGP). Wingti was re-elected in 2002, but he stood as an independent and did not seek to regain leadership of the party he had established.
The shift from first-past-the-post voting to limited preferential voting (LPV) was affected in the general belief that such a change would bring about greater cooperation between candidates, reducing the number of candidates and lessening the violence associated with recent elections — though the rationalization of this belief has never been made very clear. LPV came into effect after the supplementary elections in the Southern Highlands in 2003. By December 2004, there had been six by-elections held under LPV. All were fairly peaceful affairs, with fewer candidates than in the 2002 national elections, but since that is usual in by-elections it would be premature to take these outcomes as a validation of this particular piece of social engineering.