PNG election augurs well for political stability

A FEW months ago violence was widely feared during the PNG national election in view of the prevalence of guns and other weapons in the Highlands region, but voting has been completed in some of the more trouble-prone areas without serious incident. By Brian Gomez

That is not to say the elections have been incident-free, Among those affected were former prime minister Paias Wingti and Opposition Leader Peter O'Neill. Wingti, who was pelted with various objects, expressed concern that such "minor and isolated" incidents would create a negative perception abroad.

A veteran of many past elections, his view was that introduction of limited preferential voting had enabled candidates and their supporters to peacefully consider second and third preference votes.

Wingti, a keen opponent of Prime Minister Michael Somare, who had a public falling out with Somare's predecessor, Sir Mekere Morauta, said the 2007 national election was "by far the most successful election so far".


Referring to news reports that he had been injured during a confrontation at a political rally on June 29, Wingti said peace-loving and law-abiding people contained the situation and escorted him to a local police station.

Relatively few ballot boxes have been hijacked by election candidates and supporters, suggesting fraud has been limited. In a couple of reported cases, police and defence force personnel have moved in to rectify the situation.

An entire team of election officials found themselves behind bars in Enga's provincial capital, Wabag, after they hijacked a load of ballot papers and were proceeding to mark them up in favour of a candidate they supported.

Armed men tried to protect the corrupt officials but fled when defence personnel arrived and arrested the culprits.

With less foreign assistance that in previous elections, PNG authorities have thus far done what appears to have been a commendable job.

One of the biggest problems is the claim that thousands of people were unable to vote because their names were missing from the common roll. One-day polling was enforced in many areas too, which has reportedly prevented some people from voting.

Nevertheless, the poll has been a far cry from the chaotic situation in 2002, which some have described as the worst election ever held.

At that time many electoral areas ended up with three times as many votes as the local population, leading to jokes that every man, his dog and his pig had appeared on the common roll.

One big problem in previous elections has been that renegade policemen and soldiers have supported various political candidates.

But firm action and good leadership appear this time to have prevented, or at least minimised, this.

Things have gone well because of the planning undertaken by the Electoral Commission and the uniformed services.

A K50 million budget allowed PNG police to use six helicopters and a Twin-Otter aeroplane to keep the peace.

A safe and smooth national election augurs well for stability and progress, bolstering confidence in whichever political party forms the next government.

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