ELECTORAL Commissioner Andrew Trawen said last week that the electoral roll is the most important issue for the Electoral Commission before the 2012 national elections.
Indeed, an accurate and up-to-date electoral roll is the cornerstone of a fair and democratic election.
As Mr Trawen rightly pointed out, there needs to be an improvement on all aspects of the process, from data capturing right through to how electoral rolls are printed for the public and for election officials.
After the 2007 national elections and the 2008 local level government elections, the EC undertook a series of workshops to review these elections and to find a better way forward.
“While a number of issues arose, it was clear then and it is still clear now that the electoral roll is the most critical area requiring improvement,” Mr Trawen said.
This prompted the EC to initiate a two-day forum last week that will help set the agenda for the electoral roll improvement program over the next two years.
Based on the theme “strengthening and protecting democracy in PNG”, all speakers expressed the need for an improved electoral roll that will truly reflect the thriving democracy that PNG claims to be.
Launching the forum, Mr Trawen echoed previous sentiments that the 2012 general elections will be more challenging than those in 2007.
And he assured participants that he has got the ball rolling and the commission is geared up to ensure it is ready come 2012.
For its part, the Government, under the Electoral Support Programme, has allocated K13.5 million to the EC next year.
The resolve for an improved electoral roll is in line with the commission’s corporate plan.
For the first time, the EC has compiled a three-year action and development plan in preparation for the 2012 general election.
This plan comes into effect next year. One of the key priorities for the EC now is to maintain the electoral roll, a task that is expected to start before the end of this year and continue until 2012.
The desire of the plan is to ensure, among other things, to ensure the accuracy and integrity of the electoral roll.
It also focuses on the quality of the enumeration and data management processes, the capacity for the roll not to be corrupted and the manner in which information is conveyed to the voters.
Lack of accuracy in an electoral roll creates loopholes for corrupt practices.
It also increases the prospect of the entire election being considered illegitimate and a farce.
Without a proper and accurate electoral roll, the possibility of “by-elections” will surface.
By-elections are a waste of public funds. They are expensive and certainly not sustainable.
By-elections such as the one in Kandep show that PNG still has a lot of work to do before 2012.
It is time to start addressing issues such as the electoral roll.
Without an accurate electoral roll, many eligible voters will miss the opportunity to vote for a candidate of their choice.
Mr Trawen said the onus was not entirely on the EC but for every Papua New Guinean to take ownership of the electoral process. Let us learn from past mistakes and change the mindset of people who enrol more than once, or who vote multiple times using force or intimidation or who deny others the right to vote.
As Mr Trawen said: “We must cooperate and put our heads together to produce fair outcomes, which are sustainable for our own benefit and that of the generations to come.”
Transparency International (PNG) director, Richard Kassman, echoed Mr Trawen’s sentiments, saying that a collective effort needs to be made to realise a fair and just election.
Words without action are meaningless, and so TIPNG already has programmes principally driven by the PNGEC that are working to raise education and awareness on the electoral process.
They include voter education, selecting good leaders, the limited preferential voting system, improving and enhancing the election process, voter registration and the most vital – the electoral roll.
But there is still a lot more work to be done, despite the efforts of the EC and stakeholders like TIPNG.
“We still have names of underage voters appearing, multiple entries of the same name, incorrect spelling of names and we again have inflated roll data in some areas,” Mr Trawen said.
The 2012 national elections will determine the leaders who will steer the nation towards a promising future.