By HENRY LUBANG
Hence, in campaign financing, it is a critical or an important precept of elections that must not be taken lightly, especially in Papua New Guinea.
In this article, we look at the disparity between incumbent members of parliament and non-incumbent candidates, in essence affects the campaigning process.
Among a number of plausible reasons, the incumbent MPs have the advantage of already having access to government development funds at their disposal. This then places them ahead of the competitors when it comes to voter appeal and thus putting non-incumbents in a less desirable position.
By the nature of a democracy like ours, incumbent MPs are given access to resources and they are well placed to capitalise on the decision-making processes of the government machinery compared to challengers.
If MPs are able to use their political influence to remain in power, voters will have no power to influence their policy decisions.
Once entrenched, politicians are free to take distortionary actions such as simple graft or the evisceration of property resources to overcome the advantage of incumbency. These costs may then skew the allocation of political power even further towards the wealthy and effectively disenfranchising ordinary people, who may not have the resources to support candidates to represent their views.
Although some views that are raised may not be directly relevant for PNG, it nonetheless is worth bringing them up to help us understand the consequences of the intensity of competition between incumbents and non-incumbents.
Incumbents with this type of advantage are often accused especially during election periods to be involved in practices relating to voter manipulation tact when delivering services few months before polling.
Non-incumbents, on the other hand, have to fight uphill battles to challenge incumbents. In other words, they are forced to accumulate funds in order to execute a good campaign strategy.
Therefore, they inevitably encounter competitive threats from incumbents. This then create avenues for illegal soliciting of funds and subsequently illegal application of funds.
Projected in a bigger picture, such perceived unfair competition adds to an atmosphere of frustration, anger and mistrust – which can lead to violence.
The argument is not restricted to individual candidates but also to political parties.
In order to have parity with rivals, parties have to ensure they are also financially sound so that they are able to roll out a good campaign programme.
But since election in PNG is still dictated less by party politics, even if they play a crucial role in putting a candidate on the campaign trail, individual candidates still have to prove that they can deliver to the electorate.
This serves as an admission ticket for them to marshal votes.
Even if it means last minute funding, citizens still make no distinction as to what is a ploy and what is not. As much as possible, citizens want to see tangible services on the ground and this is enough for them to seriously reconsider the re-electing of the incumbent. As time goes by, and with more awareness, voters might eventually navigate away from last minute or short-term projects and be in a position to make more informed decisions.
Many citizens, including non-incumbent intending candidates, often argue that last-minute funding is nothing but some sort of pork-barreling used by MPs to entice voters.
In the fear of being voted out due to reasons such as years of inactivity in office, incumbents sometimes resort to pork-barreling.
All this considered, it is likely that it is this fear of being voted out of office is what forces incumbents to resort to illegal campaign means to rejuvenate their political standing as elected representatives.
Whatever the arguments, these do not preempt incumbents to counter any accusations of purported concerted funding as voter enticements.
Incumbents’ line of defence is often based on their duty or obligation as elected representatives to deliver services to the electorate up until the writs are issued. Adding to this conundrum is that the law is silent on last-minute funding by MPs.
However, and notwithstanding whatever line of counter arguments by MPs and their cohorts, sound-minded citizens do maintain their stand as most do observe and judge as to whether elected representatives have been delivering services since elected into parliament or simply do so at the last minute to entice voters.
Whatever argument that either side takes, it is deplorable to use government resources to make one’s candidacy known.
On the same token, it is also not right to divert programmes and project funds for campaign purposes through pre-arranged selective distribution of funds to certain regions, provinces, electorates and wards.
The challenge now appears to be one where there is a need to identify which is pre-election funding and which is campaign funding. Apart from this, it would also help to place a time limit (eg six months before writs are issued) on the delivery of programmes and projects funding, especially during the election year. Perhaps, this will help everyone by clearing the air from allegations using pre-election funding for campaign purposes.
Regardless of how sinister the issue is, the task of finding a way forward is complex given the thin grey line between the implementation of projects, as part of the government’s delivery process to the people, and projects that are associated with pork barrel politics. The underlying challenge is how to level out the political playing field.
Henry Lubang is research cadet under the institutional strengthening pillar at the National Research Institute of PNG.