CATHERINE WILSON | Inter Press Service
INDEPENDENT OBSERVERS HAVE SUBMITTED reports identifying serious concerns about malpractice and discrepancies in Papua New Guinea’s recent national elections.
“The 2012 elections were generally free, but not fair, as many voters across the country were disenfranchised and did not exercise their constitutional right to vote,” said Dr Ray Anere, senior research fellow at the PNG National Research Institute.
The conduct of elections is influenced by the nation’s high cultural, social and linguistic diversity and a much longer history of indigenous clan and community-based governance.
Elections regularly feature large numbers of political parties and candidates fiercely vying for a small number of parliamentary seats.
Conducting the 2012 election, in which 3,443 candidates, including 134 women, contested a total of 111 parliamentary seats, was a complex logistical exercise.
More than 80% of the population live in rural and mountainous areas and the Electoral Commission assigned 30,000 polling officials and 4,700 teams to 9,800 rural polling locations.
During the three-week polling period Transparency International (PNG) deployed 370 independent election observers to monitor approximately 1,000 polling stations.
“It is very concerning that the roll had 4.8 million names on it, many more than the census would suggest, and yet in coastal areas many people could not find their names on it, despite having been on the roll in 2007,” a spokesperson said.
“However, in the Highlands, the ward rolls were largely not used. This was often because communities felt that the ward roll did not have enough names on it, and so not enough ballots were supplied.”
The Commonwealth Secretariat, which sent an international observer team, noted there were “problems with the electoral roll in all provinces visited.
“The proportion of voters turned away varied between areas and there were multiple apparent causes, including the integrity of the electoral roll itself, confusion over names used by voters, lack of clarity in the allocation of voters to specific wards and the limited ability of polling officials to verify enrolment information on polling day.”
In Highland provinces, the Secretariat observed most polling stations visited “did not provide for the secrecy of the ballot with voting taking place in public and often being done by polling officials or even by candidates or scrutinizers on behalf of voters.” Multiple voting, bloc voting and underage voters were also witnessed.
“The discrepancies in the electoral roll in my view are more the result of incompetence on the part of enrolment and roll officials, than deliberate corruption,” Anere commented. “Many voters in various electorates claim to have filled out enrolment forms, but their names were not on the final roll.”
The Electoral Commission did not respond to requests for comment.
The Post-Courier newspaper reported that up to 4,000 voters in some constituencies and hundreds across the New Guinea Island provinces, Bougainville and the National Capital District were disenfranchised because their names did not appear on the electoral roll.
Electoral Commissioner Andrew Trawen has publicly commented that an investigation into suspected electoral roll offences will be conducted, but no further information has been announced.
Meanwhile the Commission is compiling a report on the election results which will be presented to Parliament in November.
In a media briefing, Trawen declared: “Despite opposing views, doubts and criticisms coupled with the political impasse, the PNG Electoral Commission remained confident of successfully delivering the 2012 elections.”
Transparency International (PNG) stated that positive developments this year included improved vote count reporting and separate voting booths for women in the Highlands, but noted that peaceful elections are not necessarily free or fair.