A closely watched and heated national election has begun in chaos across much of Papua New Guinea. The process is scheduled for two weeks, but polling days have already been pushed back in the capital and some highlands provinces and many voters can’t find their names on official election rolls…we have more from Neal Conan in today’s Pacific News Minute.
The past year in Papua New Guinea has seen a student boycott that shut down public universities for months, strikes by public sector employees and corruption charges swirling around many senior officials, beginning with Prime Minister Peter O’Neill. Now hopes that the national election could provide legitimacy appear shaky at best.
In one incident, police arrested three election officials in Port Moresby after they found what were described as suspicious documents and marked ballot boxes. Radio New Zealand identified one of them as the elections manager of the capital district. According to police commander Sylvster Kalut, he was carrying 57,000 U.S. dollars in cash and a signed document from an unnamed candidate.
The news prompted authorities to postpone voting in the capital from Tuesday to Friday, an announcement that came after thousands were already lined up at polling stations.
Radio Australia reported the situation no better in the highlands. Violence erupted in Tani, a village in volatile Hela province, when rival clans started fighting and the ballot box was stolen. Police got it back, but Sergeant Bill Kari told the ABC reporter that once the ballot box had been tampered with, the votes could no longer count.
There were widespread reports of discrepancies on election rolls, despite a 15 million dollar program to purge ghost names and register new voters properly. Those problems contributed to a decision to postpone voting in three highlands provinces.