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Seat taken away from Minister for Education Laimo

By Yehiura Hriehwazi

PORT MORESBY, Papua New Guinea (The National, Feb. 22, 2008) – The National Court has voided the election of Minister for Education Michael Laimo.

Justice Ambeng Kandakasi ruled in Buka yesterday there were irregularities and illegal practices committed during the election last year, and voided Laimo’s election as Member for Bougainville South.

Mr Laimo, a National Alliance party man, defeated petitioner Steven Kami, a New Generation party candidate, by only 17 votes to retain the seat. He polled 6,046 votes to Mr Kami’s 6,029. Mr Kami challenged the election result on grounds that there were illegal practices committed.

In his ruling handed down yesterday, Justice Kandakasi said there were gross errors and omissions and illegal practices by Electoral Commission officials.

One of the illegal acts that was brought to the attention of the court was the setting up of a second polling booth in the Mongai area, in the No-Go Zone, where a supporter of Mr Laimo lived.

Records produced in court showed that 128 voters turned up and voted at that polling booth. This was shown by the names of voters crossed out on the Common Roll. But during counting of votes, 212 votes were counted for this booth.

The Electoral Commission was unable to explain were the 84 votes came from.

The court also found there were errors and omissions during counting.

The petitioner was able to establish that there were errors and omissions during counting and even the Electoral Commission’s own records like form 66B, showed glaring errors.

Votes were unaccounted for on the tally sheets, with errors pointed out in the second and third eliminations.

As a result, Justice Kandakasi ordered that the election of Mr Laimo is void, that 212 votes be excluded from Laimo’s final tally, and that a recount of votes be held within 30 days.

The judge was also critical of the conduct of the Electoral Commission during the elections.

Mr Laimo is the first casualty of the disputes filed in court after the 2007 elections.

Petitioner Kami said yesterday he was happy with the outcome of the court case.

"Honesty must prevail, and I call for calm among supporters as we await the outcome of the recount (of votes) ordered by the court,’ Mr Kami said.

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