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Resignation of committee prompts fears of tainted process

2017 electionSAM BUCKINGHAM-JONES | The Australian | Additional reporting: AAP & AFP

THE resignation of all three members of Papua New Guinea’s electoral committee has prompted fears from current and former officials that the process has been tainted.

After two weeks of voting, PNG’s parliamentary elections are ending, with results set to be announced later this month.

On Sunday, the government’s Election Advisory Committee  – Ombudsman Richard Pagen, Richard Kassman and Professor John Luluaki – resigned, citing a lack of resources to monitor the election process.

The mass departure signalled a “sad day” for the country, according to former prime minister and candidate, Sir Mekere Morauta.

“The members of the EAC are all extremely capable men of high integrity,” said Sir Mekere, running as an independent for the Moresby Northwest seat.

“They will not have taken the decision to resign lightly. They have resigned because they have been ignored by the electoral commissioner and prevented from fulfilling their obligations and their role, which they take seriously.

“It is a very sad day for Papua New Guinea, and sends shivers of fright about the future of democracy in our country.”

Sir Mekere, who served as the country’s sixth prime minister between 1999 and 2002, said Australia must take some of the blame for the chaos.

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

“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. If any hearing aids or spectacles are required, I am more than happy to provide them.”

Meanwhile, incumbent Moresby Northwest MP Michael Malabag, a member of the People’s National Congress Party, denounced the electoral commission for the delay in counting votes, which he labelled a “bloody big joke”, according to the Post Courier newspaper.

The elections were marred by violence, vote-buying and flaws in the electoral roll, observers said. Strikes in the country’s capital of Port Moresby postponed the vote for three days, while students at a university in the city of Lae complained about a lack of ballot papers.

Counting is underway and the Commonwealth Observer Group, which monitored the polling, gave a generally positive assessment.

“Our group is of the view that, despite the considerable challenges with the common roll, there were some positive aspects of the process and the results should reflect the wishes of the people who participated in the 2017 national elections,” COG head Anand Satyanand said in a statement.

The election will decide the fate of 111 seats of the unicameral parliament and 3332 candidates, out of which 165 are women.

The country’s prime minister, Peter O’Neill, of the People’s National Congress Party, said the elections were calm and peaceful despite some voter complaints.

The 52-year-old, who has been accused by political rivals of corruption, said on Sunday he is confident of victory.

“The people of our nation have now voted, and I look forward to more seats being declared and to begin the task of forming the next government of Papua New Guinea when parliament resumes in August,” he said.

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