Nou Vada campaigns to join the executive of the Student Representative Council and becomes Vice President, learning about campaigning techniques and strategies along the way. He gains an understanding of what motivates voters and the intrigue of Papua New Guinean politics.
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The elections for the 2013 Student Representative Council were held towards the end of 2012. I nominated, and successfully won the seat of Vice President. It was during my campaign that I received an education in the nuances of being a political leader in Papua New Guinea.
Being successful requires some amount of cunning, an ability to build a cult of personality, an ability to adapt to different communication strategies for different groups within campus, and being able to tell a coherent narrative, as well as having a proven background. These are the factors that, when executed well and in balance, will lead Papua New Guineans to see past their ethnic ties when they cast their votes.
Some charm is required. Superficial charm is often needed as well. Often you will have to state bold solutions, and in case your solution has clear gaps in logic, you qualify your solution with generic statements like "nature will balance things out".
Election campaign poster for the 2012 SRC elections
Photo supplied: Nou Vada
“Nature” is an important omniscient, all-present character that you refer to in place of "God" so you don't sound like you’re using the name of the Judeo-Christian deity to gain political mileage.
Extreme knowledgeability in Tok Pisin is essential. Having knowledge of a further UPNG-centric bastardized version of Tok Pisin that incorporates English phrases with deep philosophical meanings like "united we stand and divided we fall", and technical legalese of some form is an advantage.
In 2013, we marched again to Waigani, this time with police escort, after rogue intoxicated officers of the PNG Defence Force conducted a full scale raid on our School of Medicine campus, opening fire on unarmed students and staff, injuring many.
The SRC arrived on the ground, and evacuated all the students to Waigani Campus. We petitioned the government to do something. The government response was swift.
We were also able to deliver a number of projects on campus, and write down a five year plan for our successors to follow, as a development guide for future activity.
University of Papua New Guinea Student Representative Council for 2013.
(L-R) Simon Wanga (Secretary), Emmanuel Ellison (Treasurer), Claudia Towak (Vice President Female),
Peter Numu (President), Nou Vada (Vice President Male)
Photo Supplied: Nou Vada
The personality driving our SRC in 2013 was Peter Numu, our President.
Aside from being the leaders of the SRC that year, Peter and I were also flatmates, and both final year law students.
Peter had an extreme aptitude for Melanesian and PNG Highlands politics and leadership.
He appreciated its benefits, and understood its deficiencies. Towards the end of our tenure, we would have long discussions with our friends about getting out of school and running for elections under one political party, and forming the government of the day.
We all graduated from UPNG, and moved on to bar school for another year, continuing our discussions.
This article is the fourth in a series based on a speech that the author gave to students at the University of Papua New Guinea in 2017 in conjunction with Transparency International Papua New Guinea. Previous instalments have covered the author’s experiences in 2010, 2011 and 2012. Follow @auspngnetwork to be notified when the next instalment is published.