UPCOMING ELECTIONS IN PNG SHOULD BE DELAYED

Editorial

PORT MORESBY, Papua New Guinea (The National, Mar 17) – It is becoming increasingly obvious that Papua New Guinea Election 2007 threatens to be more chaotic and potentially far more lethal than its predecessor.

In our opinion, the Government should bite the bullet and explore constitutional avenues to postpone the national election by at least six months.

It would be far better to field criticism for postponing this election than to face major

ethnic and political clashes backed by extensive weaponry.

We continue to receive reports of armaments well in excess of 15,000 weapons currently available in the Southern Highlands province.

That figure is in no way a negative comment on those who have fought to reduce those numbers and lessen the threat. They have done their level best to encourage people to voluntarily surrender weapons, but with little success.

Six SHP seats were declared null and void in the 2002 national election.

There does not seem to be any clear reason to suppose that the same situation will not happen again.

And to that prospect, exacerbated by politicking and grandiose promises and peppered with attacks against political rivals, we can now add the questions surrounding the Western Highlands province.

There are large areas in that province where elections can be conducted in peace.

But there are other districts where tribal wars are raging and the thought of trying to conduct an election must daunt even the staunchest believer in democracy.

In one part of the province some 25 people are reported to have died since November last year in one of these senseless struggles.

We say "senseless" because there is no recognisable end to such conflicts except the total exhaustion of the combatants or the intervention of high profile and widely respected figures to solve the issues.

These tribal fights should have been relegated to the past long ago.

They have no place in modern PNG.

And they certainly cannot be allowed to form the background for a well-run and comprehensive national election.

We’ve commented repeatedly that many Members of Parliament seem most unwilling to try and sort out these clashes between people living in their electorates.

Such Members have no intentions of risking life and limb in order to try and end a tribal clash.

So what will happen once the elections begin?

Voters should be able to flock to the polls in peace and cast their votes.

But what member of these communities would take such a risk in a war of attrition such as that underway in the Baiyer district at the moment?

Reports suggest that at least two Baptist pastors have been killed.

Additional deaths are believed to include two women, an old man, his grandson aged seven, a 15-year-old boy and a man aged 50.

Tempers in hot spots are rising, attested to by the tone

of Letters to the Editor and news stories received at The National.

If it is possible to hold back the elections for at least six months, a number of matters might be finalised satisfactorily beforehand.

Doubts about the Common Roll could be addressed; that would remove a major area of contention.

Where there is reportedly confusion over limited preferential voting (LPV) efforts could be made once again to show voters what to do and the clear advantages of the system.

It remains to be seen how many voters will fail to find their names on the voting roll.

The compilation of a new electoral roll was intended to eliminate the gross inflation of voting figures evident in 2002, where the total of ballots cast in some electorates far exceeded lists of registered voters.

As for the process of enrolling, we have no sympathy for those who have failed to place their names on the roll.

The Electoral Commission has mounted a long-running blanket campaign to ensure that every resident is aware of the need to register for the electoral roll.

And then there are major national issues that would be better out of the way before an election is held, such as the yet to be explained Moti affair.

If the national election is to be conducted in an orderly atmosphere and achieve a balanced representation of the political will of the people, then a postponement is highly desirable.

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