Too many questions, no real answers for PNG

Editorial

WHILE one may commend Papua New Guinea’s parliament for having formed and thereby giving a semblance of order and due process to the 2017 national elections, many questions still remain unanswered as to its validity.
The fact that there were opposing views, not the least of which came from the group of elected members who were in effect an opposition to previous government, but more importantly from experts on constitutional and parliamentary law and procedures such as Dr Eric Kwa and Dr Alphonse Gelu, as to how a People’s National Congress-led coalition Government was formed the electoral problems started long before a vote was cast.
Senior statesman and former Prime Minister Sir Mekere Morauta claimed during his first term in office that corruption in PNG was systemic and systematic; that virtually everywhere one looked there was some form of objectionable behavior or impropriety taking place that was essentially ingrained in society.
A lot of people like to blame the public service for sometimes being willing partners in corruption or at the very least passive participants in the rot. It is a fair charge and one that has been repeatedly proven true.
The 2017 national elections is a result of those attitudes not having changed. While it is fair to say that many electorates managed to carry out their polls without too much trouble, the concern here is that a good number had issues attached to them that will rightfully tarnish their legitimacy.
The number of cases that go before the court of disputed returns will indicate just how widespread the problem is. Several issues cropped up at these elections that have been problematic for the authorities (the PNG Electoral Commission) and emblematic of the way things are done in this country.
The first was the discrepancies in the common roll and the fact that many people who considered themselves registered eligible voters were denied the right to cast their vote because their names were not on the roll. This is a horrendous failing by the commission and its agents. They have five years – that is 260 weeks or 1824 days – to prepare for each election and yet the same issues seem to come up at every election. The slogan of having a “free and fair election” needs to be done away with until such a time as it is actually applicable over the majority of the elections. That has not been the case in 2017.
Aside from denying a portion of the voting population their constitutional right, one has to also question the efficacy of the process in some electorates where the numbers just do not add up or make any sense. One open electorate in the Highlands province saw the top three candidates poll more than two thirds of the district’s entire population – those numbers point to a problem with the figures provided by the Electoral Commission and whether they are an accurate indication of the numbers on the ground or are they estimates at best, in which case there is a chance they are inaccurate (wildly in some instances) and therefore open to abuse and manipulation.
But the problem is worse on the ground, particularly in the Highlands region where violence, intimidation, voting under duress seems to be the norm. The anecdotal evidence seems to point to the idea that while the organisers have given their solemn assurance to their superiors in Port Moresby that the process is being followed to the letter, that is not what is happening on the ground. Stories abound of the marking of ballot papers for particular candidates and of other activities that make the entire election process a farce. But expediency seems to be the only concern as little is being done about addressing the problems.
A wide ranging review by an independent body of the 2017 national election is required. The court of disputed returns and the other avenues for candidates to voice their concerns is there but the real question is will the Electoral Commission and those in authority take the necessary steps to clean up the elections and the processes that seems to fall into a repeating loop every five years.
There probably will not be any real change for the better until those actions are taken.

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