‘Re-poll? Not on your life’

Main Stories, National

ELECTORAL Commissioner Andrew Trawen has ordered polling officials to return to Kandep and conduct a re-poll in three areas where polling was abandoned due to violence.
But the directive was flatly rejected by polling officials who are still terrified by the violence they witnessed and were subjected to during polling last week.
Mr Trawen yesterday issued a directive to Kandep by-election returning officer Poevare Torre not to proceed with the counting in Goroka and to arrange three polling teams to return to Kandep for polling.
He said the re-poll was for the rest houses of Muyen, Tarapis and Sawi No. 2.
These areas were the scenes of violent clashes during polling last week, and helicopter pilots flying polling teams and ballot boxes refused to land there in fear of their lives.
Last Thursday in Kandep, Mr Torre made the decision to abandon polling in the three areas.
He conveyed this decision to all the candidates. At the same time, he also made the decision to move the counting of votes from Kandep to Mt Hagen.
The venue was later changed to “neutral” Goroka, where all the ballot boxes and election officials are now awaiting the start of counting.
The National contacted Mr Torre for his comments, but he declined, saying he was under directions not to speak to the media.
But the direction by Mr Trawen for polling officials to return to Kandep was rejected outright by some polling officials who had initially been appointed to go into those areas.
“It is impossible. For the three places that did not poll, people were shot dead, there were road blocks and fighting with high-powered guns right in front of our eyes,” polling official Peter Yasaro said yesterday.
Mr Yasaro, speaking for officials from Morobe, said they had seen fighting with high-powered guns occurring right in front of the police and polling officials.
He said they had also seen how dangerous the situation was when they themselves were attacked, and they would not be returning to Kandep.
Mr Yasaro said if the people there did not have respect for each others’ lives, they would not risk it.
Another official, Michael Ekalia, said they would never return to Kandep, and questioned whose interest Mr Trawen was trying to serve by directing a re-poll.
The spokesman for the Hela region team said they were not prepared to return to a “war zone”.
John Kari, representing the Madang team, also said they would not be going back to Kandep to conduct a re-poll and that was final.
A number of policemen spoken to by The National said they did not want to return to Kandep, after the ambush and the exchange of gunfire they had with gunmen in the area.
Candidate Alfred Manase accused the Electoral Commission of not being impartial and serving the interest of one candidate.
He said lives were lost, bloodshed occurred, properties were destroyed and the place was in chaos after the election, and the Electoral Commission should not direct people to go back to be killed.
He said that polling had a period to begin and end, and it had ended with the mandated returning officer sealing and concluding the polling.
“Why should they re-poll after it has closed? Mr Trawen must not listen to one candidate,” Mr Manase  said.