No reason for rallies outside Kandep

Editorial, Normal

THE police have reason to be concerned about the political rallies gone bad in two Highlands towns in recent days.
A week ago, people scrambled for cover in the Western Highlands provincial headquarters, Mt Hagen, when in the middle of the rally, a tear gas canister was thrown into the crowd.
Dignitaries as well as members of the public ran for their lives, believing a more organised attack was under way. It turned out to be just that tear gas.
Last Friday, at a rally in the Enga HQ, Wabag, another tear gas canister was thrown into the crowd from a car, which sped off afterwards at high speed.
Police would rather that the rallies, held in honour of ousted former Works minister Don Polye, were held in his native Kandep electorate which is the Open seat he is contesting.
In both Mt Hagen and Wabag, people could very easily have got hurt in the stampede that followed. Women would have got harassed or raped and little children lost or stolen in the melee.
Business houses especially fall victim to excited crowds and would normally suffer looting and other acts of vandalism.
Mercifully, both towns were spared these extreme mob actions.
That they did not occur should not excuse those who organised the rallies and the authorities should be careful not to have a repeat of this.
Trouble was precisely the intent of the perpetrators of the scam – to disturb the gatherings and to create opportunities for riots and vandalism, the blame for which might be passed off to Mr Polye.
Had such a thing happened, Mr Polye would only have himself to blame. He did not need to hold the rallies in Mt Hagen and Wabag.
The by-election is not to be held in Hagen Central or any other of the Western Highlands seats or in Wabag or Enga Regional.
Kandep is tucked well away from any towns on the border between Enga and Southern Highlands.
Here is where the by-election is happening and we would have hoped that Mr Polye would have brought his National Alliance heavies to this remote setting to let his people know of the calibre of people their former member mixed with and the kind of support he could garner when he needed it.
That would have had far greater impact upon his election chances.
And in Kandep, we dare say, there would have been no teargas-happy individual in the crowd, unless that individual was prepared for full scale war.
You do not attack a man on his home turf in these parts unless “you enough” – with the spelling and meaning in Tok Pisin.
It is difficult to even blame Mr Polye’s political opponents in the by-election for the disturbance.
The trouble could have come from any number of sources.
Mr Polye’s political enemies are not only those from Kandep.
One can appreciate the intent of the Highlands faction of the ruling National Alliance party which Mr Polye was leading before he was ousted by the Court of Disputed Returns.
They would liked to make a statement to the rest of the Highlands that in Mr Polye, should he be returned, is the National Alliance’s (Highlands faction) choice of the next Prime Minister.
But the timing was not right. This is mid-term, not the 2012 national general elections. Perhaps other contenders for the post, the other regional deputies, caught wind of the faction’s intentions and they did not show up for the rally.
The police are partly to blame for the Wabag incident because that particular rally could have been put off had they insisted on it.
The police should have been alert after the Mt Hagen incident occurred. They should have surmised that if such an incident could happen in Mt Hagen, it could be worse in Wabag.
Police have been happy to call off peaceful marches organised by churches through the streets of Port Moresby in the recent past.
A political rally is ever so much more likely to attract violence than a church march but they chose, perhaps against their own good judgment, to allow the rally to go ahead.
There is the notorious case of the container of ballot boxes which was blown up with Avgas in the 1997 general elections to serve as reminder of what can happen in Wabag, particularly during election time.