PNG’s Hela Province Ballot Counting Moved To Tari For Security

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PNG’s Hela Province Ballot Counting Moved To Tari For Security Decision to move counting to Mt. Hela allegedly led to protests

By Gorethy Kenneth and Andrew Alphonse

PORT MORESBY, Papua New Guinea (The National, June 28, 2012) – Counting of ballots for Papua New Guinea’s Hela Province will be held in Tari.

PNG Electoral Commissioner Andrew Trawen announced this yesterday, adding that the counting would take place at Tari’s main court house and hopefully start on Friday.

Mr. Trawen said counting for Hela would be held in the province, despite earlier reports that the process was going to be done out of the province either in Port Moresby or Mt. Hagen.

"Counting will be conducted within the province. A suitable venue will need to be found but it is likely that it will be the court house in Tari," Mr. Trawen said.

"Options were Port Moresby and Mt. Hagen, but it was considered that the people of Hela Province need to embrace the elections and take responsibility for their own destiny.

"Many other reasons support this decision. As one of the newest provinces in our nation, we must do all we can to support their independence and their need to determine their own way forward.

"I encourage the people of Hela to keep calm and allow the counting process to get underway as quickly as possible," he said.

"Following a meeting I convened this morning with my senior staff, the Electoral Commission’s legal adviser, the Police Commissioner and his Assistant Commissioner and the Chief Executive Officer from Hela Province, I have reached a decision." he said.

Assistant Commissioner of Police assisting Hela Province Thomas Eluh yesterday told the Post-Courier from Tari that counting may start on Friday this week or over the weekend, pending current security and necessary security reinforcement by NATEL 2012 officials.

On the ground, Post-Courier reporter Andrew Alphonse’s interview with Mr. Eluh detailed that things were now under control and counting would proceed in Hela by the end of this week. After much guessing and anxiety, it was finally confirmed that counting for the Hela ballot boxes would be held in Tari, provincial capital of the new resource-rich province over the weekend, and not in Mt. Hagen as announced. This was confirmed also yesterday by Mr. Eluh who is the security coordinator for the 2012 National Elections operations in Hela.

Mr. Eluh’s announcement puts to rest anxieties and a possible disastrous situation in Tari and throughout Hela where supporters of the 81 Hela candidates went on a rampage in Tari town in the early hours of yesterday.

The candidates and supporters protested against acting Hela provincial elections manager John Tipa and Mr. Trawen’s decision and announcement on the FM100 news on Tuesday afternoon for the transfer of Hela boxes to be counted in Mt. Hagen.

Police and PNG Defence Force soldiers providing security for the ballot boxes at the Tari police station fired several gunshots to prevent the rowdy crowd from coming any closure to the area where the ballot boxes were. The Hela people pelted the police and soldiers with stones, but fortunately no one was injured.

ACP Eluh said the crowd also felled trees and erected roadblocks with huge rocks along the Tari to Ambua section of the Highlands Highway into Mendi to prevent the movement of the boxes into Mt Hagen. He said a vehicle was also driven into the Tari airport runway where the fence was ripped down while broken bottles and debris were strewn on the runway to prevent aircrafts from flying into Tari to transport the boxes. There were no flights yesterday morning into Tari as police mobile squad 01 from Port Moresby and workers from international contractor Curtain Brothers (PNG) Ltd used brooms, spades, machines and equipment to repair the runway. Flights resume later in the afternoon.ACP Eluh yesterday met with the Hela candidates which included 28 for Komo Margarima, 18 for Tari Pori, 22 for Koroba Lake Kopiago and 23 for Hela regional seats to get their assurance that there would be no trouble if counting is to be held in Tari. The 81 candidates led by outgoing Southern Highlands Governor Anderson Agiru, Komo Margarima MP Francis Potape and Koroba Lake Kopiago MP John Kekeno also signed statuary declaration forms assuring the State that the candidates, their supporters and agents would allow for a peaceful counting period and accept whatever the result without any violence or trouble. They also said they would be held responsible by the law of the land should any situation flare up. ACP Eluh said the idea to shift the counting to Mt. Hagen stems from tension building up in relation to the allegations of widespread vote rigging, tampering of electoral processes, hijacking of ballot papers, destruction of ballot boxes and papers among other electoral offences and irregularities.

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