LET me state from the start that, when I refer to ‘electoral commission’, I include not only the commissioner himself but others.
The returning officers, assistant returning officers, counting officials and all the electoral commission’s agents who - one way or another - contributed to making sure the 2017 national elections were the worst in Papua New Guinea’s short history.
I am of the view that the current administration of the electoral commission has shown little proof that it has conducted its duties without fear or favour.
When the first seat (Tari- Pori) was declared, one could sense something was not right.
And the evidence began to accumulate with demonstrably inaccurate common rolls and allegations of extra ballot papers being used. The so-called ‘ghost voters’.
From there we have witnessed all the tricks in the book played out right in front of our eyes.
Let me list the events that have transpired that portray an election that has been orchestrated to allow one party to return, form government and rule once more.
1) The appointment of returning officers and assistant returning officers seems to have been done without proper screening and/or with the appointment influenced externally. Many of these officials are of questionable character and some have been implicated in foul play in previous elections.
2) There has been a gross abuse of electoral rolls and it could be that the majority of the voting population has not been able to cast a vote. In place of this, cronies of some ‘lucky’ candidates have helped themselves to votes by being able to mark many of those extra ballot papers.
3) Pretty much proven allegations (statistical analysis is compelling) of "ghost names" and extra ballot papers have influenced the result in crucial seats. I suspect the ruling PNC party knew it might not fare well in the elimination process and it did everything in its power to ensure its candidates were declared on the first (primary) count. [Results so far indicate that most PNC candidates leading with a small margin going into the elimination process have been eliminated.]
4) The superficial ‘quality checks’ of counting favour the ruling PNC against others. Cases in point include ‘quality checks’ in Moresby South, Ialibu-Pangia and Tari- Pori compared with Moresby North West and Madang Open. These ‘checks’ were deliberately done swiftly to allow PNC to increase its numbers quickly so that it could be invited by the governor-general to form government.
5) Allowing voting to proceed on a Sunday in Ialibu-Pangia although it is against the organic law on national & local level government elections, that is, unconstitutional.
6) The resignation of the electoral advisory committee over lack of information provided to enable it to do its job.
7) Major election related problems that have lacked effective action from the electoral commission including the return of writs to the governor-general on Friday 28 July without consulting the Registrar of Political Parties & Candidates - and with 20 or so seats still to be declared.
8) The discovery of some 3,000 ballot papers in Goilala District that were been counted.
9) The deliberate delay by the electoral commission in disbursing allowances for staff conducting elections in electorates where non-PNC parties were leading. This was deliberately done to delay the declaration of candidates.
10) Conflicting announcements over who was the duly-elected governor of Hela Province after the earlier declaration of Francis Potape was rescinded. The election manager did this in a very dubious way.
11) William Duma ‘s declaration made while 28 ballot boxes were to be counted (this has led to violence and the lockdown of Kagamuga airport).
12) In the case of Don Polye, the reluctance of the returning to count 11 remaining ballot boxes led to tragic violence in Enga.
13) In the case of Sir Mekere Morauta, the double declaration where the returning officer declared third placed candidate Joseph Tonde in a hotel witnessed by an EMTV crew and probable relatives of Mr Tonde. A failed attempt by PNC (assisted by the electoral commission) to derail Sir Mek's push to rally independents and form the government with the NA-PANGU led team.
14) There was more – much more – right across the country. This election will be studied in Papua New Guinea for many years to come.
After analysing these events, I question the neutrality of the electoral commission.
And if this behaviour and activity is allowed to continue, I predict the worst is yet to come.
Of course, this could be an indication that are witnessing the downfall of a political party alleged to have grossly abused government systems and processes, a policy that has led to weak institutions and mismanagement of the economy.
The 2017 national election will be seen by many people as a failure.
In the months ahead, the court of disputed returns will be dealing with a record number of cases as so many seats were won under suspicious circumstances.
The tenth 10th parliament of our independent state looks set to be the most intriguing in our nation's history.