Eight seats left to be declared

Editorial, Normal

The National, Wednesday July 1st, 2012

LAST night, 103 members out of the 111-seat parliament had been declared.
That leaves only eight seats yet to be declared.
By today, we will most probably be down to only three outstanding – those of the regional seats for Enga, National Capital District and Western Highlands with the possibility that Eastern Highlands, Chimbu and Jiwaka might also not meet today’s deadline for the return of writs.
Yesterday, we heard the incredible news that although declarations have been made for 103 seats, 30 writs have not been returned to the chief electoral commissioner.
Today is the deadline for the return of writs from the 2012 general election to Governor-General Sir Michael Ogio.
Electoral Commissioner Andrew Trawen will formally present to Sir Michael the writs returned for all the seats declared so far with the notice that those for the outstanding lot will be returned next week. He will also present, along with the writs, the name of Peter O’Neill, the leader of the People’s National Congress, the largest party returned, to the governor-general to invite to form the next government.
It is important that the electoral commissioner has all the writs from the seats declared so far for presentation to Sir Michael.
A writ is a formal written order instructing the returning officer in each electorate to hold an election to elect a member of parliament. The writ specifies the day by which the names of candidates must be entered into nomination, and sets a polling date and a date on which the writ, with the name of the successful candidate noted on the back, is to be returned to the electoral commissioner.
In our case, the date for the return of writs has been changed once already, extending from July 27 to Aug 1.
Only in the case of the six regional electorates referred to earlier has the date for the return of writs been extended to Aug 7.
Ensuring writs are returned safely and on time is the responsibility of the electoral commissioner and his returning officers.
It is not the job of the candidate.
It is the only proof of an election ever having taken place and a formal declaration made as to the winner.
There is every reason to worry about the safety of writs. Take the case of the Imbonggu open seat in Southern Highlands province for example.
At the end of counting, two winners were declared. Although the earlier declaration of Francis Awesa has been upheld, it has taken a week for investigations to establish that and the announcement was made only yesterday.
This rather loose area of the elections, had it been exploited further, could have resulted in chaos.
With many dissatisfied or sidelined returning officers, keeping tabs of the election writs can be a nightmare and a writ that is not returned will result in legal complications.
That is why we are at a loss as to why the PNG Electoral Commission has not insisted on the writs being returned in the quickest time possible and providing the means to enable its returning officers to do so.
It might well turn out that failure to have the writs physically at end might force a further and unnecessary extension of the date.
Waiting in the shadows to pounce on excuses like this sort are political groups which do not necessarily have the numbers but who want to disrupt legitimate processes for their political gain.