Papua New Guinea Readies for Landmark Elections
Thousands of security officials were Friday readying for Papua New Guinea’s elections which are set to end months of political stalemate during which two men claimed to be prime minister.
Some 4.6 million people are registered to vote, with 3,428 candidates vying for just 109 parliamentary seats when two weeks of polling opens on Saturday.
“We have been encouraging all the eligible voters to actively take part in these elections which are the most crucial elections in the history of PNG,” Electoral Commission spokesman Alphonse Muapi told AFP from Port Moresby.
Some 9,000 security staff are deploying to ensure the polls are safe and Electoral Commissioner Andrew Trawen predicted a peaceful turnout.
“I am confident that voters in this election will be able to cast their votes without fear, intimidation and undue influence,” he said in a statement.
The commissioner said members of the security forces were out in strength, particularly in the volatile highlands where a number of pre-polling raids and arrests have been made and which was the scene of violence in 2002 polls.
Trawen also warned poll workers not to engage in any illegal or corrupt activities during the voting which is conducted in different parts of the country at different times.
“Any poll worker cited for bribery and corruption during the polling and counting periods will be severely dealt with under the law,” he said.
The elections, in which any one political party is unlikely to win enough seats to form government on its own, will involve 4,700 polling stations — 1,700 of which are so remote they are only accessible by air.
PNG has been in political turmoil since December when the Supreme Court ruled that Sir Michael Somare, considered the nation’s “founding father”, was the legitimate prime minister and incumbent Peter O’Neill’s rise invalid.
O’Neill was elected by lawmakers in August after Somare left the country for medical treatment, during which time his family announced his resignation on his behalf.
Somare later recovered and questioned his removal, resulting in the court ruling that he should be reinstated, a move O’Neill rejected.
The power struggle comes as PNG sits on the cusp of an unprecedented economic boom, driven by a massive US$15 billion gas project.
International observers warned the elections must be fair and free.
“These elections are critically important for the people of PNG as they elect their leaders and it is imperative that the electoral process is transparent, fair, credible and free of violence,” former Vanuatu PM Edward Natapei said.