Poll violence bodes ill for future

Editorial, Normal

THE conduct of elections in PNG has regressed and grown more violent with each passing election rather than becoming robust, progressive and peaceful.
The by-election in Kandep, Enga province, last week and its frightening aftermath is testimony of that.
The future does not bode well.
The office of a Member of Parliament is today ten million times more attractive than it was before the last General Elections in 2007.
Since elections produce Government leaders and leaders in their turn make laws and policies to govern the welfare of the people, the intimidation and violence that accompany them in PNG portend a very dangerous erosion of the very fundamentals of democracy in this country.
Controversy surrounded the Kandep by-election right from the start.
This included teargas canisters being flung into election rallies in Mt Hagen and Wabag prior to the elections.
Last Friday, election officials and police personnel guarding ballot boxes came under fire at road blocks.
Our reports yesterday indicate that a 3km stretch of the road was strewn with fallen trees in an attempt to stop election officials from transporting ballot boxes to Mt Hagen to be counted. Election officials said they feared for their lives if the counting had been conducted in Kandep.
The story is not complete as we are unclear exactly as to the cause of the entire incident on Friday.
The casualties, if any, are unknown at this stage.
At least three villages are said to have been left out altogether in the polling because of fighting and threats, according to election officials. This might in turn have sparked the violence of last Friday.
What happened in Kandep is not the kind of action that should be associated with elections in a free and democratic country.
One would expect violent attempts to prevent due process in an election to occur only in police states.
Still, violence in elections is not exclusive to Kandep. It is a phenomenon that has accompanied most post-Independence elections in many parts of PNG, particularly in the populous and volatile Highlands provinces.
In the beginning, it was expected that elections would become more organised and peaceful with the passing of years.
In practice, quite the opposite has happened.
The first elections of 1964 brought out the greatest attendance, comparatively speaking, with over a million people voting in one of the most peaceful elections. This was at a time when elections were a very new concept.
The following two elections in 1968 and 1972 were equally peaceful, even though those periods were fraught with tension as a result of several secession movements.
Even the first two post-Independence elections were relatively calm.
From about 1987 onwards, elections started getting more violent. A change in the voting system from first past the post to preferential in 2007 does not seem to have improved on the violence any.
There just is no guarantee that violence will ever be reduced.
In fact, as the office of Member of Parliament increases in stature, particularly as a result of the millions of kina that a Member now presides over (K14 million in the last three years and a further K2 million or so next year), the competition will be more intense and future elections will get more violent.
There just will not be enough police manpower to go around in the 2012 elections.
So what do we do?
Papua New Guineans are very lucky.
At the time the first general elections for the House of Assembly in 1964 happened, much of the major issues surrounding voting rights had been resolved around the world.
Election history around the world tells us that voting rights have been hard fought for.
Universal or general suffrage means the extension of the right to vote to all adults, without distinction as to race, sex, belief, intelligence or social status.
This was not always so.
PNG, mercifully, suffered no  discrimination right from the first election on. Looking at the way elections have developed and the uncertain future, it might well be time to take a long hard look at election history, with a view to excluding those who show themselves to be incapable of understanding the very concept of
This is most unfortunate indeed.