The Commonwealth election observer team highlighted “widespread” problems with the accuracy of the electoral roll, concerns about election-related violence, allegations of “vote buying, including the use of state resources," and significant delays in opening of voting stations.
Their report follows the resignation on Sunday of the PNG Electoral Commission’s constitutionally required Election Advisory Committee (EAC) over lack of access to data to help determine if the poll is free and fair.
Two-weeks of voting started on June 24 and was due to finish on the weekend, but is still continuing in some areas, while the vote count is underway in many electorates.
“A key issue and challenge to this election has been the significant number of eligible voters whose names were not on the common roll,” the Commonwealth statement said.
“The people of Papua New Guinea deserve better and eligible voters must be allowed to exercise their democratic right and participate in national elections.”
Their interim report does not make any determination if the election was fair and free, and states: “The count is still ongoing and our observations will be reflected in the final report."
“It is our assessment that all aspects of the electoral process will need a thorough review by the PNG Electoral Commission immediately after this election."
Commonwealth observers said they are “disappointed” similar concerns and recommendations made after the 2012 election were not acted on.
James Marape winner in early results
The first successful candidate was announced on Sunday in the Highlands seat of Tari Open, with James Marape from the incumbent prime minister Peter O’Neill’s National Congress Party returned.
The Electoral Commission’s updated website listed Mr Marape as receiving 30,192 votes after preferences were distributed, with his three remaining rivals receiving 30,116 votes.
In information provided to election observers, the seat is listed as having 41,804 voters on the roll.
SBS World News has contacted the PNGEC for a response.
Counting is currently underway in 24 seats and yet to start in the remaining 86 according to the EC website.
Impact of AEC resignations
The credibility of the election has also been hit by the resignation Electoral Commission’s Advisory Committee (EAC) members Professor John Luluaki and Richard Kassman, due to lack of access to election roll and ballot paper data.
“The EAC is a constitutional process and it is an important link... when the first parliament after the election sits,” Professor Luluaki said at a press conference on Sunday.
“The committee would be able to advise positively or negatively the [electoral] commissioner whether things are substantially wrong to justify a declaration of that the election has failed.”
Mr Kassman added they were unable to do their job due to lack of information and resources.
“The EAC has requested summaries per province, electorates and wards requesting details of the electoral roll, spreadsheet of number of ballots distributed to those regions, when they departed Port Moresby and the date they were distributed,” Mr Kassman said.
“There are multiple allegations of bad behaviour and some tantamount to criminal behaviour that we wanted to investigate.”
The Commonwealth observers said “there were some positive aspect of the process”, despite the logistical and financial challenges, and the Electoral Commission should be “commended in this regard” that the elections have occurred.
“There were not reported restrictions on the freedoms vital to a campaign period, that of assembly or expression.”
The Commonwealth will issue a full report at a later date.
Election writs are due to be returned by July 25 and parliament expected to sit in August.