PAPUA New Guineans may never fully discern the extent of foul play Peter O’Neill and the Peoples National Congress (PNC) committed to retain power in the recently concluded 2017 election.
As a candidate for Simbu Regional and a regular contributor to PNG Attitude, I want to record my personal views of what I see as a grand scam by the ruling party.
First, I am very troubled by the shocking image circulated on social media of an Enga tribesman shot by the security forces in Wabag at the height of the counting.
My concern was that the photo clearly showed the gun the man was carrying had a red PNC4PNG sticker on it.
I have been involved in national elections since 1987 when I first voted. Three times I have been a candidate and twice an election official. I’ve worked as an observer with AusAIDS. Since I was a young man in 1977, I’ve also been an avid reader of articles on elections by experts like Dr Bill Standish.
With this experience under my belt, I conclude that 2017 national elections were the worst.
Election laws and other laws of the land were blatantly abused and proper procedures and practices were disregarded by the electoral commission, all done in broad daylight without remorse.
This 2017 election was a grand scam designed to favour only candidates from the ruling PNC with the electoral commission a rubber stamp to serve its agenda.
And the desired end was achieved: Peter O’Neill and PNC are back in power.
There were many serious flaws apparent. Some of them included the printing of 10 million papers when about 4.5 million were required, the printing of them in Indonesia when the PNG government printer had never failed this responsibility in previous elections, the resignation of the election advisory committee because they were not provided with adequate information, and the chronic shortage of funds to run an effective election.
There were many more similar issues which raised many questions about the integrity of the 2017 national elections. Busa Wenogo canvassed them in an excellent article in PNG Attitude, which you can read here.
In the Ialibu-Pangia Open, where O’Neill is the incumbent, voting took place on a Sunday which is clearly against the organic law of our Christian democratic country.
The election commission ordered early counting for Ialibu-Pangia and James Marabe’s Tari-Pori electorate and O’Neill and Marabe were declared winners within four days of voting finishing while most Southern Highlands and Hela electorates were still into preliminary counting two weeks after.
In Hagen Open, O’Neill crony William Duma was declared without 28 ballot boxes being opened and counted, triggering riots resulting in millions of kina worth of damage and the closure of Kagamuga airport.
In Port Moresby, where PNC’s Michael Malabag was unseated, the returning officer oddly fell sick at the hour of declaration and there was a delay before finally the assistant returning officer stood in to declare Sir Mekere Morauta elected.
Just before that, for two days PNC strongman Nick Kuman’s name was circulated as being the declared member for Gumine Open. Then Dawa Lukas was declared by the returning officer in Kundiawa in front of election officials, police and the people of Simbu.
The declaration of Dawa was delayed by four hours while Simbu’s Mobile Squad 8 chased a PNG Defence Force major who had stolen the writ and driven off along the Okuk Highway through the Wahgi Valley, finally being caught at the Kuli Gap near Mt Hagen.
The army officer and his accomplices had tried to smuggle the Gumine writ to Hagen and then on to Moresby. The writ was brought back to Simbu and Dawa was officially declared, but was later mysteriously replaced by Kuman when parliament sat for the first time.
There were these and so many more scams and illegalities associated with this election. See how far the PNC went in its desperation to hold onto power?
I personally recorded the following discrepancies during the election in Simbu.
There was inadequate voter education carried out in the villages to uplift people’s awareness and understanding.
The common roll update, an important part of every election, was not undertaken thoroughly in the six Simbu electorates to determine the eligible voters in 2017.
Two days before polling began, an unreliable roll of electors was sent to Simbu by the electoral commission together with boxes containing ballot papers. Many anomalies were identified on this roll of electors.
There was not enough time for people to check if their names were on the roll. Many eligible voters in many polling places across Simbu missed out on voting because their names were missing.
One obvious blunder was that more than 2,000 voters were missing from the rolls in Mogl and Kagai in Sinasina Yongomugl, strongholds of non-PNC candidate Kerenga Kua and instead additional ballot papers appeared in another part of the district, a stronghold of a PNC candidate.
The ballot papers had been packed in Moresby according to the new roll. Had Simbu election officials not checked them, the 2,000 ballots papers would have ended up in the wrong village.
This particular case was rectified in Kundiawa before the polling teams went to the villages but many other polling areas were not checked and we can only speculate what happened there.
Further, the design of the ballot paper was not voter friendly for our majority illiterate voting population.
I witnessed my clan members who were not able to write the numbers or names of candidates themselves call on officials to assist.
In previous elections voters used aids such as pictures on the ballot papers to identify their choice of candidate and only had to tick a box.
The new design gave rise to foul play as officials could mark the candidates of their choice and not the ones mentioned by the illiterate voter. It created confusion among the majority of voters in PNG where pen and paper are not an everyday toy and they are expected to remember names and numbers.
On election day there were not adequate security personal present at polling places. I witnessed chaotic scenes in the 12 polling places I visited in the Gumine Valley on that day and often voting continued into the evening as supporters of candidates, thugs and drunkards took control.
I saw women, old people and disabled people watching helplessly and not able to participate.
Certainly 2017 was not a fair, free and safe election.
In the polling places I visited, and during the counting in Kundiawa, I heard many gun shots, saw vehicles smashed and burnt and witnessed fighting where serious injuries were sustained.
Many of these incidents targeted PNC candidates. Two supporters of former PNC member Tobias Kulang were killed when supporters clashed in Kundiawa.
You can read more about the Simbu elections in Francis Nii's riveting article here, published at the time.
Elsewhere, immediately after declarations across the highlands, we heard of citizens killed, stealing, fighting, property destroyed, houses burnt, road blocks and hold ups.
Lawrence Stephens, Transparency International PNG chief, said: “This is disheartening and completely unacceptable to the vast majority of our people who believe in good and fair, transparency and democratic processes.”
Certainly the 2017 national election was the worst in the history of this country. This is a national disgrace and brings more disrepute to a country already tagged one of the most corrupt in the world with citizens who are also some of the poorest in the world.
Peter O’Neill and PNC, who engineered this grand scam, did their work well enough to be back in power.
The one hope for this country is that the credible opposition that is now in place will eventually be able to form a government and steer this country into calmer waters.
I do hope this will happen for the sake of my country.