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By Mark Forbes, Sydney Morning Herald Correspondent in Port Moresby

PORT MORESBY, Papua New Guinea (July 17, 2002 – Sydney Morning Herald)---Election counting in Papua New Guinea's strife-torn Highlands provinces has been frozen, with the Electoral Commissioner, Reuben Kaiulo, saying he may seek a court order for fresh elections, throwing next month's parliamentary vote for prime minister into confusion.

In a press conference with Police Commissioner Joseph Kupo yesterday, Mr. Kaiulo said he would make a decision next week on restarting counting or calling new polls in the provinces of Enga and Southern Highlands after a report from a legal team sent to the areas.

Mr. Kaiulo has been involved in a war of words with the police and the government over who is responsible for the polling chaos.

Senior polling officials told the conference police had failed to act against gangs who had seized ballots and stabbed electoral staff in full view of officers.

Mr. Kaiulo said he was deeply concerned about voting in the two provinces, where hundreds of thousands of ballots had been destroyed or commandeered by armed gangs. With no clear-cut law on calling fresh elections, Mr. Kaiulo said he would go to the national court for direction if his lawyers recommended it.

He said Parliament could sit on August 5 without 14 or more MPs from the elected areas.

"I am told I only have to return a majority of the writs by July 29," he said, adding that he hoped to declare "a bit more than 80 seats" out of 109 by then.

Mr. Kaiulo said the Electoral Commission could not stop dishonesty in Papua New Guinea because the country had become "bad and evil" through a "crisis of spirit and moral decay."

"Everything most of Papua New Guineans do now is selfish, self-centered and senseless," he said.

Mr. Kupo said there had been lapses of security at some polling booths and as a result he had called out the army.

Increased security would be provided if counting proceeded in the provinces.

Mr. Kaiulo said it was too early to judge the credibility of the election with many results still to come in.

For additional reports from The Sydney Morning Herald, go to PACIFIC ISLANDS REPORT News/Information Links: Newspapers/Sydney (Australia) Morning Herald.

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