It’s election time in PNG. Passions can run high, candidates hit the campaign trail and the highway fills with buses decked out with campaign posters and loudspeakers. That’s how we’ve experienced things before (in town), but with the date for voting drawing closer, nothing much was happening here in the bush.
We were expecting a government helicopter to land with a ballot box and an electoral team this week, but now it seems it’s next week. That’s the rumour going around the village, but we don’t know. I’m keen to find out if a ballot box typically arrives here, or is it now that our houses are here it will come. Somehow I can’t get a straight answer. If the team arrive I’ll ask them I guess!
The procedure as explained to me is that the team sets up on the football field and one by one people come and point at the candidate they want, which is written down for them and their pinky is painted with nail polish to show they voted. Then the electoral team will hike to other villages, maybe… I never know – I’ve just learned to wait and see what actually happens.
Voting is happening for both a provincial MP and a local level government MP. Our local level government area encompasses 5/7 of the Kovol villages and a number of the neighbouring Pal language’s villages, and some others?… the details are fuzzy.
With the vote just a week away (or 2, or longer…) we’ve suddenly started seeing campaign posters around, pinned up on houses and trees along the trails. We’ve also witnessed a meeting or two where supporters of candidates try to convince everyone to vote together for their candidate. It seems the Kovol people are about 500-1,000 out of 17,000 voters for the LLG seat – which contradicts some other impressions I was getting on the size of the ward… but hey, ambiguity is fine. There seem to be 2 camps.
1 is to vote for the guy from the biggest language group in our ward. We’re too small to win with our own candidate, so let’s vote for the winner and he’ll see the votes in the results and send us some roofing iron. The other camp is: let’s not vote for those guys – we won’t get anything, Let’s vote for our own (Wanuma area) candidate.
A meeting happened this week where 4 or 5 team members from candidates in camp #2 spoke. Each representative got a turn on the megaphone (hiked in from town) to speak about their candidate. PNG uses a ranked voting system where voters vote with a 1, 2, 3 preference which means the representatives can work together somewhat. Voting for one doesn’t mean total exclusion of the others. I did chuckle to see 4 or 5 candidates put forward together though… someone’s going to miss out.
The message was “Let’s vote for a good candidate so that government services and a road will come”. Who the good candidate was is left implicit… but is probably the one on the poster being held up at the time.
After all this (happening in the trade language Tok Pisin) I suddenly hear “and now the white man is going to speak”. I glance over at Rhett, surprised looks on both our faces. Rhett doesn’t want to get up, I don’t want to get involved either… but they’re waiting for us.
Up I get then and wrack my brain for what to say as I grab the megaphone. The expectation is that I’ll reinforce all that’s already been spoken, but I don’t want to pick sides! My solution – just start talking about something else, using enough of the Kovol language so that the candidate representatives from town can’t follow everything.
“Remember the helicopter is coming on Monday with the vasectomy doctor. If you’re tired of having children, men can come to have their ropes cut. Just ask your wives first – it’s permanent.” (Next week’s blog is sure to be about all that!)
The candidate reps looked a little confused, but the Kovol people laughed and enjoyed it. Bullet dodged!
We came to the meeting hoping to hear a discussion about the status of the idea of building an aid post here in the village, but despite some of the right people being there the discussion was shelved. Before we came the community worked to gather materials to build the building, but now there are some disappointed and cross people seeing the wood that was cut and roofing iron that was brought in rotting. We thought that was what the meeting was all about.
All in all, we’re aiming to be neutral and just observe what’s going on. The problem is we have no idea what attending to ‘just observe’ communicates 😀 We do tell them that we like the ranked voting though. The UK system should take notes!