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Papua New Guinea

Observers face daunting PNG task

The observer groups have a massive task ahead of them as Papua New Guinea starts voting this week, an exercise which will last 18 days ending on July 22.

A the election starts, the PNG Police have urged voters not to sell their votes.

A total of 9,905 polling stations, comprising 11,066 polling booths have been set up in the four regions, covering 375 local level governments and 7,023 wards.

Leading the Commonwealth Observer Group is the former president of Nauru Baron Waqa and according to him, they are here to help ensure a credible, transparent and inclusive general election.

The team arrived in PNG last week and spent the weekend meeting with various stakeholders, including political parties, the police, civil society groups, citizen observer and monitor groups, and the media.

They know that they have their work cut out for them. The 2017 report was damning and from the outset it has looked like the PNG elections this year were headed that way again.

“Our mandate is to observe and evaluate the pre-election environment, the elections on various polling days and the post-election period against the backdrop of Papua New Guinea’s national legislation and regulations, as well as regional and international commitments,” said Mr Waqa.

Members of the Commonwealth Observer Group in PNG. Picture: Commonwealth Media

“We will then report on whether the elections have been conducted to the standards to which Papua New Guinea has committed itself, including its own laws.

“We look forward to a peaceful election and urge stakeholders, including voters, to commit to a peaceful election, consistent with Commonwealth’s values and principles.”

The nine observers from Samoa, Fiji, Tonga, Vanuatu, Solomon Islands, New Zealand, Australia and Seychelles, will be deployed throughout PNG.

But their task was always going to be a tough one.

Students of Simbu Lutheran Day Secondary are listening to the speakers encouraging the people of Simbu of a violence free, fair, and peaceful election. Picture: Royal PNG Constabulary

PNG’s independent think tank Institute of National Affairs (INA) has highlighted that the election was worrisome because electoral rolls for the constituencies had not been updated since 2017.

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Preparation has already been hindered. This means that a large number of the potential adult population has not been included in the role.

According to the INA, this will provide opportunities for many to defraud the electoral process and in many cases influence voters.

Polive controlling crowds at PNG election campaigns. Picture: Royal PNG Constabulary

This will also lead to unrest at many polling venues and will fuel the fire which has already claimed more than 30 lives.

This year, candidates’ vehicles have been held up, candidates’ homes have been set on fire, candidates have shot people, a teenager was beaten to death – and all of this happened before the polling had even started.

According to the ANI, the number of weapons in the community – especially in districts and provinces – was a concern as this was beyond the security forces’ capacity to manage.

Vote buying

It is no secret that corruption is rife in PNG. All transparency indexes have put the nation at the bottom end of the scale.

Just as the voting starts, Deputy Commander for Highlands East Chief Superintendent Joseph Tondop urged voters not to sell their votes.

Mr Tondop said people only think of today when selling their votes not realising that a vote for the right candidate would have assured them and their children a brighter future.

“I appeal to everyone to sit with your families or communities and discuss who the best leader is. Never let anyone influence you. You know what kind of services you need at the village level so choose someone who can bring services,” he said.

National General Election Security Operation launch in Mt Hagen, Western Highlands Province. Picture: Royal PNG Constabulary

“Election is not something to play around with. Election will change this country and future of your kids. Other countries are developed because of strong leadership. We have everything in our country and only need good leadership to manage these resources a for better lifestyles.”

This is an indication that the elections have in the past been influenced by either money or fear.

The Commonwealth Observer Group will issue an initial statement on July 24, two days after polling ends and follow this up with a detailed analysis.

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