PNG vote: PM and electoral commissioner defend handling of 'worst' national poll

From calls of election 'rigging' to claims the vote has been 'free and fair', the election process in PNG continues to divide opinion - and the nation.

PNG election tally room

PNG election tally room Source: PNG Electoral Commission

Papua New Guinea’s incumbent prime minister Peter O’Neill and the electoral commissioner have defended the conduct of the national poll, after a critical report from international observers and the resignation of the election advisory committee.

Opposition leader Don Polye claims the poll has been “rigged” and former prime ministers condemned the conduct of the process, with the 'Father of the Nation' Sir Michael Somare, calling it: "The worst I have ever come across."


On Sunday the Election Advisory Committee (EAC) resigned claiming it had been denied access to electoral roll and polling booth information neeed to make recommendations on the legiitimacy of the outcome.

A Commonwealth election observer interim report on Monday recommended "all aspects" of the electoral process be reviewed immediately after the poll, and raised concerns about “widespread” electoral roll discrepancies, allegations of voting buying and violence.

'Our people have had their views heard': O'Neill

Counting is underway in 38 seats, yet to start in 72 and one has been declared.

Voting was due to finish on the weekend but has been extended until Wednesday in many electorates due to widespread polling issues.

“Our Electoral Commission has done the best it can, with the best people it could employ, and it is delivering a free and fair electoral process,” said Mr O’Neill.

“There will always be critics, there will always be people with vested interests, but in June and July 2017 our people have had their views heard.

“The process was not perfect, but you tell me a country where the process is perfect. You can look to elections in industrialised countries like the United States or Australia, to other countries around Asia.”

Electoral commissioner Patilias Gamato rejected allegations by the Electoral Advisory Committee - made as they announced their resignation - that his office had denied access to polling information.

“It is a pity unfortunately they resigned prematurely, I can say their resignation is premature because the election is still in progress,” Mr Gamato said.

“The committee made some requests and we tried to be helpful but both the role of the committee was to give advice and recommendations, not to judge the election.

“It is an advisory committee, perhaps there was a misunderstanding.”

Peter O'Neill
File image of Peter O'Neill. Source: Getty

'The election in PNG is rigged': Polye

Opposition leaders and former prime ministers have condemned the election.

“This election is the worst I have ever come across,” former prime minister Sir Michael Somare told EMTV.

“I have stood for nine parliaments, and yes we made a lot of mistakes at the beginning but we corrected them and everything was good.

“I won’t even comment on the Electoral Commissioner and the people who run this election.

“There’s a lot of discrepancies in the ballot papers and ballot boxes. I have run elections and I know.”

Opposition leader Don Polye told ABC Radio Australia’s Pacific Beat he agreed with former members of the AEC about the transparency of the election

“At the moment the election in PNG is rigged, and we have lost the integrity of the free and fair election in this country,” Mr Polye said.

He accused electoral officers of being supporters of the prime minister and highlighted vast inaccuracies of the common electoral roll, but said the opposition would not boycott the election process.

“I think we should stop the counting, we should now all declare the election in Papua New Guinea in 2017 has been rigged, and failed - and a fresh election should be called,” Mr Polye said.

Calls for Australia to take responsibility

Former prime minister Sir Mekere Morauta who came out of retirement for the poll was also scathing of its conduct and called on Australia to take “some responsibility”.

“The utter chaos of this election is deliberately organised. It is rigged,” he said.

“Patilias Gamato should immediately resign. He has failed Papua New Guinea.

“Australia has nurtured the O’Neill regime and the election process. It must take some responsibility for the chaos.

“I do hope the High Commission and their masters in Canberra are finally hearing the growing chorus of Papua New Guineans expressing their disapproval of this Government and their anger about the chaos and rigging of the election.”

Mr Gamato has also denounced police intimidation of election observers during the election count and has written to the police commissioner to ensure there is no misunderstanding of their role.

“As electoral commissioner I’m deeply concerned about the manner in which election observers have been treated, as this does not reflect well on us as the host nation.”

“I’ve written to police commissioner Baki and requested him to remind security forces to allow election observers to carry out without being subject to harassment or aggression from security personnel.

One incident at a counting venue in the capital involved a PNG national employed by the Australian National University.

“He was punched by security personnel and his mobile phone smashed,” Mr Gamato said.

“The second incident brought to my attention involved member of the Melanesian Spearhead Group (MSG). The MSG observers were also subjected to harassment and aggression by security personnel on two occasions.”

5 min read
Published 11 July 2017 at 1:40pm
By Stefan Armbruster
Source: SBS World News