Trump and the PNG 2017 elections

Donald Trump (Flickr/Gage Skidmore CC BY-SA 2.0)

Donald Trump’s election as the 45th President of America took the world by surprise. It was certainly one of the defining moments of the 21st century. Many assumed the United States would continue to herald liberalism, led by the ‘establishment,’ an almost unassailable cohort of conglomerates and political high flyers apparently interested in safeguarding the status quo and advancing the ideals of the democratic world. By their standards, Trump is an outsider. But he unexpectedly found favour with those disenfranchised with the liberal ideal.

His election may not be one of celebration for those in the Pacific region, especially given his reluctance to act on US commitments to climate change and regional treaty obligations. But it should rouse some rethinking in our traditional assumptions of domestic politics.

Papua New Guinea’s 2017 National Elections will be an event to watch closely. How will it affect the current political ‘establishment’? PNG has always had a high turnover of politicians [pdf] and this trend will certainly continue, but this time with more zeal and purpose. It will be a test especially for those who have clung to political power and have well-established links. Trump’s election is an outcome of voters disillusioned with the status quo.

Unlike previous elections in PNG, many voters in 2017 will be more informed. Politicians have often been accused of maintaining their grip on power by bribing or deploying ‘sweet policies’ to entice the voters. While both strategies will undeniably be at play, voters will mostly likely be persuaded by a deeper conviction for change. Like the US elections, many PNG voters will most likely call for change on the back of someone ‘new’, someone who appears to be free from corruption. That is already evident in social media discussions.

Social media has allowed political information to be readily available to both the rural and urban voters. Traditionally, only urban voters have any meaningful choice in voting. The ill-informed rural voters often restrict their votes to candidates within their tribes or those that they share traditional linkages, irrespective of the candidates’ competency.

But 2017 will see more informed voters. Awareness campaigns led by NGOs and tertiary student groups in rural areas will most likely be intensified leading up to the 2017 elections with the aim of educating the rural populous about the implications of bad political decisions. PNG voters may take to the polls, bearing in mind the unresolved national issues such as the ‘Parakagate affair’ that implicates the Prime Minister of corruption, the controversial UBS Loan arrangement that now has long-term ramifications on PNG’s economy and shooting of unarmed student protesters.

At the district and provincial level, voters may be reminded of the complacency of their political leaders on these national issues and question the continued lack of development despite much-increased funding allocations under the District Services Improvement Program (DSIP) and Provincial Support Improvement Program (PSIP). It remains a serious question whether security would be sufficient to allow a free and fair election given the lack of funding for the PNG electoral commission. And the massive DSIP and PSIP allocations may give incumbents a greater advantage than they earlier enjoyed.

Trump’s victory, like the Brexit referendum in the United Kingdom, demonstrated ‘the power of the people,’ however mistaken the people may be in their choice. It epitomises democracy. Will we see the same in PNG?

The 2017 PNG election is an opportunity for change. Like the Trump story, it is likely that the election will breed a new generation of leaders for PNG. Breeding new leadership is not always bad if it serves as a reminder to those already in power not to get too comfortable in their seats and forget the very purpose of their mandate.

Bal Kama is a PhD Candidate at the ANU College of Law and a sessional lecturer at the University of Canberra Faculty of Business, Government and Law.

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Bal Kama

Bal Kama is in legal practice as a Special Counsel specialising in areas of public law and is an adjunct assistant professor at the University of Canberra School of Law. He has a PhD in law from the ANU College of Law and undergraduate degrees in law, international relations, and politics.


  • The highway to hell starts from paradise… Bri has a point of contention with what happened out there, but going back to PNG, we have this “block voting” active and alive, opposed to party line. Tribal, marriage, and customary alliance is still active.. minus the anticipated party manifesto. This election might go with the latter….

    We hope for changes, but the current government has ‘institutionalised’ itself like nothing seen before. If the fraud court cases, task force sweep, student protests…. all fell shot of achieving an outcome. The chances of this government returning to form the 10th Parliament is looming.

  • Thanks Bal
    Your discussions around “expect the unexpected” in the election turnout in recent US presidential election and would expect the same for upcoming PNG election holds some expectations for the land of expect the unexpected-PNG politics.

    In the recent US election, one truth that even Americans failed to understand is this; many Americans rejected the status quo under Democrats. That led to Republican winning the President seat, majority seats in Senate and House of Representatives, a complete whitewash. American across the states demonstrated what they are not happy with and what they want going forward.

    Back to PNG political scene, we have seen and gone through the turbulence of PNC and coalition run government including those broad day light high level corruption cases against Prime Minister, cabinet Ministers and top bureaucrats of departments, unprecedented high record of foreign loans, low cash flow while PNG deliver one of its biggest project-LNG Project. One notable development across the institutions and agencies is that everyone in position of authority seems to serve only one Master. These will go on records in 2017 election outcome as we assumed.

    The difference we may find is that; in American there is educated voters base than PNG, though some public awareness done by activists and students around the country, the possibility of cash exchange during election unlike America is very much inevitable. Also foul play during polling and counting period is another area of concern that would skewed outcome of election results-expect the unexpected.

    Otherwise, educated elites in PNG have known and seen the governance situation in PNG by the current PNC and coalition led government, it’s not a secret.

    • Educated and informed voters is an important point John and this is definitely a challenge for PNG. But i think PNG voters are more educated than they were in the previous elections about, not only the inefficiency of the government but also on the electoral processes and the importance of their votes. But we’ll have to wait and see whether that will translate to some form of political change alluded to in the article.


  • What happened in the US elections is certainly not people power or democracy at work……

    If it was truely people power and democracy then we would all be preparing for a CLINTON presidency…

    The truth is that Americans do not have the constitutional right to vote for a president…….

    That responsibility lies with the electoral college…..A kill switch installed by the American founding fathers to ensure the peasants did not select the President. ….

    In PNG just as it is in America all the politicians are members of one party…..The “Property” party (vidal)

    • Hi Bri, a good observation. Although arguable whether the right to vote was legitimately exercised, people were given the opportunity to vote nevertheless.

      The concern in the article is not so much that issue, but a likelihood for change in PNG political leadership.


  • Thanks YbK.

    God is no respector of persons. Even my view shall not change one iota of God’s divine power and will. We need to be found listening to the will of God and his prevailing wisdom.

    Can not speak of Trump neither Brexit. Both situations are unique in their own merit. The trends are not familiar and comparable enough to suggest that people power will speak again.

    I would rather say nothing than worry about the chicken before it hatches. Enough writings on the wall.

    Even if I wait….my anticipation is on God to lead me daily. Your views, YbK, are responsible and respected.

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