By GIBSON TORASO
VIOLENCE and coercion are rife in elections in PNG and with this year being an election year, the Electoral Commission, Ombudsman Commission, Churches and other bodies and individuals going all out to educate voters on how to conduct themselves during the general elections which begins next month and ends in early July.
The highlands region has always been a volatile part of the country when it comes to national elections with large sums of money being used to entice votes and firearms also being used by candidates and their supporters to round up votes.
Jiwaka provincial police commander Joseph Tondop and his policemen have been on the road, starting in January this year to talk to people in all districts about rules that govern this important event, and how to go about it in a peaceful manner.
The awareness was designed to educate voters on good governance, bribery, violence, use of illegal firearms and other electoral offences.
Churches and youths led by Jiwaka Youth president Isaac Paraka embraced the educational talk and promised to work with police to drive the campaign in the province and to report any electoral offences.
A weeklong awareness campaign by Tondop and his men was conducted in the North Waghi district, starting at Norpar outside Banz town, and through to Nondugl station, Waghi Bridge and ending at Kumbal market along the Highlands Highway.
PNG Bible Church pastor Joe Masa said Lutheran, Nazarene, Evangelical Brotherhood Church, Baptist, Assembly of God and Foursquare churches have acknowledged the importance of the awareness and impressed to spread the news to every church and community members in the province. In fact, many leaders of different Christian churches around the country have embarked on a six-week fast, living only on water. They are using this time to pray for peace during the elections and to ask God to bless people with the wisdom to select honest and good leaders for the next parliament.
Masa said it was vital to them as Christians to choose good leaders who are honest and transparent and are able to deliver services to the rural population.
“We do not have to sell our birthright. We have to vote for a right leader for a better tomorrow..
“All we have to do is to properly screen the candidates to ascertain which are God-fearing, honest and transparent, have no criminal records and can deliver,” he said.
He said the election awareness by police was timely and people can now avoid choosing “opportunists” who want to get into parliament to benefit only themselves and their families.
The clergyman said the people have been victims of their own choices in recent elections and it is now time for them to think properly before placing their mark on the ballot paper.
Pastor Joe said, “The Word of God is law and as God is supreme, so the law is supreme. And candidates must lead by example to promote good governance during campaign by respecting the rule of law and its due processes.”
He urged intending candidates to respect each other and their supporters, adding that anyone tempering with the electoral laws in their bid to enter parliament should be reported to police.
He also warned against candidates dishing out large sums of money which could amount to bribery and added that all officials responsible for conducting the elections have a duty to this nation to make sure the election is free, fair and safe.
Nondugl youth leader and community health worker Tom Wakrui commended police for the awareness and admitted that he had been involved in rigging in the past five elections. “I have been involved in illegal activities such as hijacking of ballot papers through threats of violence in five elections so far and after listening to your presentation, Tondop, I am convinced that I have been doing the wrong thing,” Wakrui told police and the people during the awareness.
“Now I have to educate others and do the right thing for the good of my children in the future.”
A young man from Kumbal market Michael Siwi said there must be strict laws in place to make it mandatory for candidates to meet certain criteria before contesting an election.
“Candidates must provide CVs that outlines their educational qualifications, marital status and declare their business interests prior to seeking endorsement for public office along with demonstrated management and leadership skills,” Siwi said.
“In the absence of this information, people will not be able to make an informed choice.”
Woman leader Muru Kambiye said, “This is the first time for a high ranking police officer to come out and say that my vote represents my life and that of my children and their children.
“It’s priceless and makes sense. I look forward to voting for a good candidate of my choice.”
Supt Joseph Tondop said it was pleasing to see people turning up in big numbers during the awareness on the importance of conducting free, safe and fair elections.
He appealed for candidates and their campaign officials not to use the threat of force or violence or use cash to solicit favor from polling officials and security personnel.
“Such candidate, or candidates and their supporter or supporters must be exposed immediately and handed over to the law,” he said.
The men are now on the final leg of the pre-election awareness in South Waghi.
By GIBSON TORASO