Review needed to make election better


THE Electoral Commission has been beset by issues since the start of the 2017 national election and the need for a post mortem on its performance is necessary.
The candidates have an avenue to air their grievances when they feel they have not had a fair and free election – they have the court of disputed returns to lodge their cases – but the state body whose job it is to run the election must also come under scrutiny and be accountable for the quality of the work they have done.
Electoral Commissioner Patilias Gamato and his staff have been criticised throughout the polling and counting periods and much of it has been warranted. This is why a full review of the electoral process is needed to determine whether or not things could have been done better.
Two of the main issues that cropped up during this election were the common roll not having names of registered voters in the electorates and scrutineers being denied the right to observe to ensure that counting was done in a fairly and without foul play – perceived or real.
It has also been claimed, and denied by the Electoral Commission, that in at least one electorate the total number of votes tallied were more than the number of registered voters. The late payment of counting officials, security personnel and other support staff caused work stoppages which delayed the counting of votes.
One could tell that things were not quite right with the organisation of the elections when two members of a three-member Electoral Advisory Committee resigned, and while Gamato downplayed that issue, it showed cracks in his election management strategy. He maintained that the resignation of Profesor John Luluaki and Richard Kassman, two well-respected and highly-educated and experienced members of this advisory committee, would not affect the election.
With the subsequent issues arising from the election one would think that in hindsight Gamato needed all the help and friends he could get. The intermediate reports coming from observer groups does not paint a rosy picture, however.
A report this week in the Australian media claimed that international observers were concerned that “roll irregularities” had compromised the effectiveness of the process. Election observers from the Pacific Forum nations, which included Australia, released a critical interim report as the embattled Gamato was making moves to extend the deadline for the return of writs to Friday.
Pacific observers said “the enthusiasm of the general public to engage and be active participants in the exercise of their constitutional rights to vote was apparent” and praised the role of civil society groups in raising election awareness.
“It is disappointing, therefore, that a large number of Papua New Guinea citizens were disenfranchised of their constitutional rights to vote, particularly considering the observed high levels of civic awareness and interest in participating in the election,” the report said.
Several significant challenges were noted, the most serious of which was the alarmingly large number of names missing from electoral rolls. Apart from the logistical challenges that the EC faced, one can also say that the instances of election-related violence have been worrying. Four people died in a shoot-out on the weekend.
Prime Minister Peter O’Neill condemned the killings in Wabag, where two police officers died, after what he described as one of the most peaceful elections in recent years. This is an extreme case of election violence and while there were casualties in the lead-up to the polls, the deaths over the weekend were an unfortunate and tragic occurrence.
A review of the entire electoral process is needed. The people need to know that they can expect a better, more competent effort in future elections.

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