ELECTIONS ARE FALLING BEHIND SCHEDULE across the densely populated highlands of Papua New Guinea as poor preparations cause angry scenes and security forces battle to keep ballot boxes safe.
Voting in the country's eighth elections since independence in 1975 has been staggered over a week to allow thousands of soldiers and police to focus on polling security in the highland provinces, where the most feverish and violent campaigning has been expected.
The opening day in Southern Highlands and Hela provinces was extended by an extra day on Sunday as polling stations were not set up on time, and Wednesday's vote in Enga province was stretched to yesterday.
In Hela province on Wednesday, supporters of the 81 candidates contesting the elections there went on a rampage through the town of Tari after a radio station reported ballot boxes would be shifted to a bigger centre such as Mount Hagen for counting because of mounting tensions over ballot stuffing and voter intimidation.
Local media said crowds felled trees and pushed large rocks onto the road out of Tari, while others drove a vehicle onto Tari's airport runway, to prevent ballot boxes full of votes being taken out by land or air.
Police and Defence Force soldiers fired warning shots to stop a stone-throwing crowd approaching the Tari police station where the ballot boxes are stored.
The country's electoral commissioner, Andrew Trawen, later announced counting would be held within the province, once a secure place, such as the Tari courthouse, was decided.
''Options were Port Moresby and Mount Hagen but it was considered that the people of Hela province need to embrace the elections and take responsibility for their own destiny,'' he told the Post-Courier.
Elsewhere in Papua New Guinea's coastal regions and island provinces, voting had been mostly peaceful, said Jerry Bagita, operations manager of the corruption watchdog Transparency International, which is monitoring the election.
However, there have been widespread discrepancies in the electoral rolls, with many intending voters finding their names missing.