VIOLENCE REPORTED AT PNG SOUTHERN HIGHLANDS POLLS

PORT MORESBY, Papua New Guinea (The National, July 2) – The killing of a policeman, hijack of ballot boxes, and clash between supporters of candidates were reported in the Southern Highlands (SHP) as bad weather and logistical problem forced the Electoral Commission to extend polling over three days. But police were quick to point out that the killing of the cop was not election related, while the clash between supporters of two candidates in Pangia and the hijack of ballot boxes were isolated incidents in what was otherwise hailed as a peaceful polling in Southern Highlands.

Bad weather and a serious logistic problem was the cause of the extention of polling in the Southern Highlands into the day three today.

Provincial election manager David Wakias told The National that up to 10 helicopters were needed to move the ballot papers and polling teams into the rural areas and the three they had were unable to do that in one day.

"We had five but two of the choppers had not been cleared by CAA (Civil Aviation Authority) to fly and were grounded.

We are using only three and that is not enough," Mr Wakias said, adding that as a result, a lot of the ballot papers, boxes and polling teams did not arrive at their designated polling areas on time.

Two heavy-lift helicopters brought in from abroad for elections operations were seen grounded in Mendi airport as CAA in Port Moresby did not give them the clearance to fly.

Polling was not conducted last Saturday in remote parts of Koroba/Kopiago, Kagua/Erave and Ialibu/Pangia electorates because of the shortage of air transport.

PNG Defence Force ground commanders told The National that their helicopter could not land in many of the small remote villages because there were no land pads big enough for the pilots to land the helicopters.

While giving the authority for polling to be extended into day three in SHP, Electoral Commissioner Andrew Trawen has also ordered an immediate counting of votes in electorates, where polling had been completed.

Lae Open electorate completed polling last Saturday and counting is expected to start tomorrow.

Counting in Southern Highlands province may start on Wednesday.

Mr Trawen said polling throughout the country started on a very slow pace but was quiet and peaceful.

The Election chief said in Southern Highlands, polling in some areas did not go ahead last Saturday due to bad weather preventing polling teams from moving in and people from voting.

Mr Trawen issued instructions on Saturday afternoon to returning officers, assistant returning officers and presiding officers for an extension of polling to affected areas to yesterday.

Mr Trawen yesterday morning issued a second extension for polling to continue to today for polling in the weather affected areas.

The Electoral Commissioner has powers section 19 of the Organic Law on the Provincial and Local Level Government Elections to extend polling periods.

In parts of Central province, polling did not go ahead in some parts of Goilala because of weather conditions preventing polling teams from getting in to conduct polling.

He said polling for Central province will end on July 10 and he hope to get the polling teams into the Goilala area as soon as the weather clears.

In Milne Bay, the election manager reported a peaceful and average turn-out of voters in Alotau to cast their votes and reports from the outer districts has yet to reach the provincial headquarters.

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