Court orders exclusion of ballot papers

National

A WAIGANI National Court has ordered a returning officer to exclude more than 1800 ballot papers for the Wapenamanda Open electorate pending the outcome of a case filed by sitting MP Rimbink Pato.
Justice Derek Hartshorn, made the order on Wednesday after being informed that the officer had failed to comply with the instruction from Electoral Commissioner Patilias Gamato in a letter dated July 18.
He also extended interim orders obtained by Pato on Saturday directing the officer, Maku Kopyala, and election manager Anton Imau to deduct the 1833 ballot papers from an Awas box and a Tuplkores box.
The Awas box contained 621 ballot papers and the Tuplkores box contained 1212 ballot papers.
Justice Hartshorn said he was satisfied that Pato had serious questions that needed to be determined through trial where he had a likelihood of success.
He was also satisfied that the court had jurisdiction to deal with the case because section 153A (4) of the Organic Law on National and Local Level Government Elections did not state that a decision of a returning officer “shall” not be challenged other than by way of petition.
He said the section stated that a decision of a returning officer “may” not be challenged other than by way of petition, which meant that a national court could exercise its jurisdiction.
He also said a direction from the electoral commissioner must be followed to protect the integrity of electoral process.
Earlier, counsel Dane Mel asked the court to continue the interim orders because there was an arguable case and that the interest of justice favoured its continuation.
Lawyer Alice Kimbu argued that Kopyala had exercised his power as the returning officer under section 153A of the Organic Law on National and Local Level Government Elections where he made a decision to count the ballot papers from the two disputed ballot boxes.
She said Kopyala’s decision was final and could only be challenged by way of an election petition at the Court of Disputed Returns.

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