COUNTERFEIT BALLOTS DISTRIBUTED IN MOUNT HAGEN

PORT MORESBY, Papua New Guinea (PNG Post-Courier, July 5) - More than 100,000 sample ballot papers and candidate posters have been allegedly distributed in Western Highlands by a regional candidate’s supporters.

This has prompted rival candidates to call for an election boycott on the eve of polling in the country’s third largest city [Mount Hagen].

Regional and Open candidates yesterday demanded the provincial police commander and the election manager show cause why there should not be a delay in polling. Sample ballot papers and candidates posters printed and distributed with only Governor Paias Wingti’s face on box 35 has frustrated other candidates, including Deputy Governor Wai Rapa, Wan Wak, Tom Watinga, Elias Kombo and Fr Caspar Laka to call for police intervention. Some of the boxes of the sample papers were confiscated in Tambul Nebilyer district yesterday morning and brought to Kapal Haus before taking them to the police station where they were identified.

Supporters of other candidates were flocking into Kapal Haus to get an explanation why those papers were distributed on the eve of polling. Heavy security presence saw the remaining boxes of sample papers taken to the police station as people thought those boxes contained pre-polling ballot papers.

Election manager Kala Rawali explained the samples had not been printed by the Electoral Commission and could not be used in the elections as valid ballot papers.

He added it was illegal to print sample ballot papers and candidate posters without the approval of the electoral commission.

Lawyer assisting the electoral commission Dr. John Nonggorr who was in Mt Hagen yesterday explained to the candidates the legal processes from a situation that could have otherwise resulted in chaos. Nonggorr said it was illegal to print such materials and whatever was printed was not authorized by the electoral commission.

"There is provision for prosecution for such attempts and it is now up to the police to decide whether to pursue the matter or not," he said. But he said the word sample was printed on all the ballot and candidates posters, preventing the electoral commission from taking a direct stand on whether to prosecute or not. The printing of such material was a criminal offence and the printers, distributors and those who paid for such materials to be printed should be equally responsible before the law, he said. But the candidates’ call for the candidate in question to be arrested and prosecuted was not allowed as the word "sample only" was printed on all these papers that were distributed, he said.

Candidates, including Wai Rapa and Wan Wak, asked Nonggorr if there were any provisions that could see the person responsible for printing those posters and sample ballot papers thrown behind bars before the polling.

The sample papers also had an authorization note at the end of each paper and the electoral commission’s logo on the top. Nonggorr said it was not only illegal to use the commission’s logo and authority note but also to actually print those papers and have them distributed. However, he assured the candidates the election would proceed for Western Highlands today despite the complaints. Provincial police commander Winnie Henao also assured the candidates his men would carry out a normal investigation to see if those responsible could be arrested and charged. He said he would also seek legal advice from the police legal officer to see if any arrests could be made relating to this matter.

It is not known whether those samples were paid for by Mr. Wingti himself or his supporters and distributed, as he could not be reached for comments yesterday.

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