[Originally published in the Vanuatu Daily Post’s Weekender Edition.]
Election season is well underway. For most people, it’s unrolling as it always has. The usual gifts are handed out to the usual suspects. A chief receives a free vendor stall at the Independence ceremonies in exchange for delivering his community’s support. A prospective candidate rounds up a few dozen friends and spends an evening doling out kava and chatting. An MP tours from village to village with a truckload of pots, pans and bags of rice. A prospective MP buys the truck itself.
Generally, these transactions are notably free of platform or policy discussions. The tradition doesn’t really work that way. It’s not that candidates don’t have agendas; they do. Nor are they hiding anything, necessarily; it’s just that, at this level, they don’t play the policy game.
As they’ve done for thousands of years, leaders invest their time and wealth in buying the support of the dominant personalities in their community. They do so by the most direct means possible: bags of rice, pots and pans, a favour here, a favour there. It’s simple, direct and tangible for all involved. The price of a vote is lamentably low, but that’s just a reflection of the value voters put in today’s government.
Occasionally, though, there arises that rarest of political creatures, a candidate with a conscience, and a policy platform to prove it.