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PNG extends election date as nation recovers from violence

The general elections in Papua New Guinea will now take two more weeks to finalise as Governor General Sir Bob Dadae accepted a request by Electoral Commissioner Simon Sinai to extend the deadline from July 29 to Aug 12.

The request was put forward by the Commission to allow more time for counting to be concluded properly, and for the winners of the 118 provincial and open seats to be declared.

Sir Bob said in a statement on Tuesday that it would be impossible to complete all counting by July 29.

“The extension will save time and resources and  avoid a failed election which will be costly if we were to start all over again,” he said.

Governor General of PNG Sir Bob Dadae (seated) and caretaker prime minister James Marape on the left. Picture: Department of the Prime Minister

The general elections in PNG have been a far cry as incidents of violence, vote rigging, vote buying and hijacking of ballot boxes overshadowed peaceful voting elsewhere in the country.

Sir Bob also made several recommendations to improve future elections.

This happened a day after the Commonwealth Observers gave a damning report on how the elections were conducted in PNG.

The boxes being brought into the Kundiawa Police Station for safe-keeping. Picture: Royal PNG Constabulary

Sir Bob recommended that the Electoral Commission get its finances and manpower resources sorted out early for the next elections and introduce a system which has technological features making counting and verification easier such as a biometric system.

“This way we avoid all the problems we have witnessed in this election – the hijacking of boxes, disputes and delays in counting and violence,” Sir Bob said.

“A number of people have lost their lives from election-related violence. It is very unfortunate and should not have happened at all.”

Hagen open seat winner William Duma congratulated by Superintendent John Sagom at the Kimininga Police Barracks at the official declaration on July 26. Picture: Royal PNG Constabulary

Meanwhile, life has started to return to normal in the PNG capital, Port Moresby, just two days after the streets were overtaken by machete wielding election supporters.

Graphic videos showed how these men attacked anyone who did not support their political interest, an incident which many Papua New Guineans have called a day of shame.

The PNG Government had to send armored vehicles with heavily armed defence forces to patrol the capital to maintain law and order.

Many from the business community have spoken of damages they had incurred because of the violence.

PNG election observers release damning report – 27 July 2022

Missing names on the electoral roll, allegations of bribery, exclusion of women and the disadvantaged, and lack of media access are some of the concerns raised by the Commonwealth Observer Group regarding the general elections in Papua New Guinea.

Chair of the group, former president of Nauru Baron Waqa led a team of eight other individuals from the Commonwealth to observe if the election was conducted in a free and fair manner.

The report issued by the group shows concern and has recommended steps which the incoming government can adopt to hold better elections in the future.

Mr Waqa in a statement also expressed sadness at the escalation in election related violence and strongly condemned the acts of violence by a minority of the peaceful and law-abiding citizens of Papua New Guinea.

“Our full assessment of the entire process will be contained in our final report, which will be made publicly available in due course,” he wrote.

He noted that the observers had been in PNG since June 28, and that the group is comprised of political, electoral, media, gender, and civil society experts from Commonwealth countries, predominantly from the Pacific.

Despite the concerns, he commended PNG for conducting its ninth election, “notwithstanding the institutional challenges created by the COVID-19 pandemic.”

Frustrated candidates and scrutineers for Kavieng Open electorate fronting up at the National Fisheries College counting venue to voice their grievances. Picture – Royal PNG Constabulary

The group also commended the work done by the police, the electoral commission and the media in its duties to maintain free and fair elections.

According to the observers, they were concerned that the highly centralised structure of the Electoral Commission presented many overwhelming challenges in the effective delivery of the election.

The 2022 rolls were missing a large number of names. In some cases, as much as 50 per cent of eligible voters were reportedly not on the rolls. There was also widespread public dissatisfaction with the accuracy of the common roll.

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The observers felt that this could have disenfranchised high numbers of eligible voters.

There was late and insufficient disbursement of funds, unpaid bills and allowances from previous elections which created a lack of trust in the Commission by suppliers. This impacted the timely and safe conduct of this election.

Missing names on the electoral roll, allegations of bribery, exclusion of women and the disadvantaged, and lack of media access are some of the concerns raised by the Commonwealth Observer Group. Picture – Commonwealth Media

There were numerous allegations of bribery involving candidates’ agents. Observers also witnessed the distribution of money and food to voters during the polling period.

The report highlighted inadequate efforts to facilitate the inclusion and participation of women, youth, persons with disability, and other disadvantaged groups in the political and electoral process.

Observers also noted lack of media access to the Electoral Commission and an absence of updates on its website and social media channels, fueling possible misinformation.

The group recommended that all relevant stakeholders collaborate in undertaking an urgent review of the 2022 election and implement immediate reforms to strengthen voter registration including the introduction of continuous voter registration and capacity building at all levels.

The report also urged a reform of the Electoral Commission to create a collaborative and decentralised structure that would ensure accountability and transparency and the effective delivery of elections, in line with good international practice.

“Before I conclude, I reiterate my grave concern and sadness at the daily incidents of violence and tragic loss of lives reported in mainstream media, social media, and from other observer teams,” Mr Waqa wrote.

“On behalf of my team, and the wider Commonwealth, our deepest condolences, go out to the families of those who have lost loved ones. We stand in solidarity with you in your journey.”

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