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The National

Yes, there is a Doctor in the House
December 18, 2003

The outcome of the Abau election was a double triumph.

It gave the clearest possible indication of the suitability of the limited preferential voting system for Papua New Guinea.

And it was an unmistakeable triumph for Dr Puka Temu, the National Alliance candidate, and the Somare Government.

The more important of these two achievements was the vindication of the limited preferential system of voting.

For the first time in the history of an independent PNG, we have returned a member to the House on a fair and balanced basis.

The previous first-past-the-post system led to dreadful anomalies in many seats, notably in the Highlands.

Some constituencies regularly fielded 30 or more candidates at national elections, and the "winner"-- that is the candidate who scored the most votes -- often represented a mere seven or eight percent of the voting electorate.

That was a travesty of electoral justice that turned PNG's democratic aspirations into a farce.

It seems those days have mercifully passed, and we can be grateful for the many Electoral Commission personnel who have worked long and hard to bring about this significant achievement.

On the Abau front, the National Parliament will now be without a member of the Genia family for the first time in many years.

The outgoing member, Kilroy Genia, was preceded into Parliament by his brother Jack, who died in office while Leader of the Opposition.

Not that Dr Puka Temu, who has now put behind him Kilroy Genia's attempt to unseat him through the Court of Disputed Returns, is any stranger to the people of his electorate, or to the nation.

As one of the most successful long-term Secretaries for Health, Dr Temu commanded widespread respect both within the department and throughout the country.

There was a strong feeling at his initial election to the Abau seat that candidates of the quality of Dr Temu were precisely what the PNG

Parliament most needed, if we were ever to return the House to the level of respect it once enjoyed.

Now at least we will have the opportunity to see what Dr Temu and like-minded members can achieve in the second half of this parliament.

Nor will we have long to wait.

Legislation requiring a two-thirds majority of members will shortly come before the House once again.

That constitutional amendment seeks to have the present 18 months grace period before a vote of no confidence may be moved extended to 36 months.

It has been narrowly defeated twice.

It would now appear to have a strong chance of being confirmed, unless one or more members break ranks.

The confirmation of Dr Temu's election in Abau, and the return of re-instated Middle-Ramu MP Ben Semri, coupled with expected support from the Menyamya and Ijivitari MPs -- absent during the last vote - plus the vote of Speaker Bill Skate, who will have been relieved of his duties as acting Governor-General by the time the vote is taken, should give the Government a one vote majority.

There has been a great deal of controversy over this constitutional amendment, and a great deal of it has been nothing more than political posturing from certain members with their own private agendas.

A handful of more thoughtful members has genuine concerns over the possibility that this amendment if carried could enshrine an unmovable and dictatorial government, one that would be extremely difficult to remove.

But as we have previously pointed out, Prime Ministers are elected by the members of the House.

Somewhere along the way we must have confidence in those whom we elect to Parliament - and if we do not, then we should not elect them.

Crucial to this process of determining an accountable government is to grant it the right to plan ahead.

If there is one negative that has become painfully obvious in the political processes of this country since independence, it has been the lack of forward and sustainable planning.

Our elected governments must be guaranteed the right to carry through their plans for PNG, for the simple reason that we the people have elected them to do so without interference.

The ultimate power to elect a suitable government lies, as it must, in our own hands.

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