Drop Kundiawa-Gembogl by-election

Editorial, Normal

The National, Friday, June 3rd 2011

WE would not want to deny the people of Kundiawa-Gembogl their right to representation in parliament but, perhaps, the by-election announced yesterday by the Electoral Commission is impractical.
The open seat was vacated by the death of MP Joe Mek Teine in April.
Electoral Commissioner Andrew Trawen said section 106 of the constitution allows for an election to be called as soon as an office of an elected member of parliament becomes vacant.
 “For the vacant Kundiawa-Gembogl seat, I had to give enough time for the family and the people of Kundiawa to meet their customary obligations in mourning the death of the late member before I announce dates for a by-election as the mourning period has now lapsed,” he said.
Trawen was responding to media reports that certain community leaders in the electorate have urged acting Prime Minister Sam Abal not to conduct a by-election out of respect for the late MP.
“This manner of requests and assurance (consent) is inappropriate and unconstitutional because any person deciding against the conduct of elections is, in fact, breaching the requirements of the constitution,” Trawen said.
 “The seat does not belong to factional groups of people within the electorate; it belongs to the people of Kundiawa-Gembogl and there is no power given to any person to stop the conduct of elections as required under section 106 of the constitution,” Trawen said.
He said for an election to take place, the vacancy must take place at a time outside of the 12 months period before the fifth anniversary from the time the writs were returned for the last elections.
Trawen pointed out that the writs for the 2007 elections were returned on July 27 and the Kundiawa open seat became vacant in April this year.
“We are not yet into the 12-month period, the seat has become vacant and, therefore, a by-election must be conducted.
“This is the requirement of the constitution which is mandatory, therefore, there will be no discretion to waive this requirement,” Trawen said.
He said his office had prepared a tentative by-election programme and he would seek the governor-general’s consent before announcing the by-election dates.
While we support his argument, we are of the opinion that the proposed by-election is far too close to the general election and there ought to be some discretion applied here by Trawen’s office to decide whether or not it is practical to conduct a by-election.
Legal niceties aside, there is far too little time to conduct a by-election and expect the incoming MP to deliver any tangible benefit on behalf of his electorate.
A lot of resources will be burnt by candidates going into this by-election and, within less than 12 months, the same people will be expected to come up with more to go into the general election.
Holding a by-election now would be unfair for all concerned because we can confidently predict that the electioneering that begins for this by-election will just be extended into next year’s elections.
While a new MP might expect resources from parliament to ease his pain, others will just have to delve deeper into their pockets to sustain the fight.
In the end, this kind of extended pressure, particularly in the highlands and in Chimbu at that, can lead to aggressive behaviour and that is one thing we would like to avoid.
We also need to know if preparations for the general election are complete, including the compilation of the common roll.
In light of the uncertainty over whether or not there might be two new provinces, and whether there will be special seats reserved for women, cabinet ought to consider waiving the need to hold by-elections and move to sort out all urgent work in preparation for next year’s general election.
With the build-up of arms in highlands provinces, and particularly in the Southern Highlands and Hela region, all attention ought to be focused on the 2012 elections.
The electoral commission must work together with the government to ensure 2012 is trouble-free.
With MPs now having access to instant millions through parliament, it is going to become a competitive and violent election.
Past elections have been violent for little reasons and we can safely predict that the coming elections will require a major security operation if it is to be pulled off at all.
That should occupy the PNGEC’s attention.