PNG Electoral Commission Yet To Assess Missing Names On Rolls

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Commissioner claims rolls were ‘over 90 percent complete’

PORT MORESBY, Papua New Guinea (PNG Post-Courier, June 29, 2012) – Friday was the sixth day of polling in Papua New Guinea, and the people are waiting anxiously for Electoral Commissioner, Andrew Trawen, to tell them what he intends to do with the thousands of voters who have missed out because their names are not on the Electoral Roll.

Mr. Trawen had assured Parliament and the people, especially the estimated 4.3 million eligible voters in April that the electoral roll was more than 90 percent complete and it would be ready in time for the polls at the end of June.

However, this has not been the case and thousands of people have been denied their right to cast their votes, beginning with the first day of polling and it is likely that thousands more will miss out with delayed polling in almost all provinces because of various reasons.

Mr. Trawen is expected to announce his decision at a press conference in Port Moresby today.

The general election enters its sixth day today as the pressure mounts on the Electoral Commission to explain the discrepancies in the electoral rolls, the problems faced in the Highlands Region, especially calls for the sacking of certain returning officers and who is behind the hijackings of ballot boxes, not only in the Highlands but in Milne Bay and Central provinces, National Capital District and elsewhere.

Mr. Trawen will announce what action, if any, the Electoral Commission and the Inter-Department Election Committee headed by Chief Secretary to Government Manasupe Zurenuoc will take on the defective electoral roll and related issues and discrepancies that have disrupted polling in the last five days of polling.

[PIR editor’s note: PNG Prime Minister O’Neill called on the commission to use supplementary rolls as the newer, updated common rolls have caused problems for thousands of voters in the country.]

Today, counting will begin in Southern Highlands Province at Momei oval. Counting did not start yesterday as scheduled, because they were still sorting out the venue.

Also, polling in Kandep did not commence because a number of candidates have demanded the removal of the Kandep Returning Officer. On top of this, two candidates who were claiming to have won the seat, clashed.

But polling operations for Kompiam/Ambum, Wapenamanda, Wabag, Laiagap/Porgera went without mishap and the ballot boxes were guarded heavily by armed policemen in Kopiam.

The delay in these operations may also mean a delay in polling for Western Highlands next week as NATEL 2012 security reinforcements are concentrated in the affected areas in the Highlands.

Yesterday, the Post Courier was bombarded by candidates who are already talking about instituting court proceedings against the Electoral Commission, either now or before the Court of Disputed Returns after the election.

Trawen announced earlier this week that there was a possibility of addressing voters who did not vote because their names are not on the roll. One option would be to hold "just one more day" of polling for the thousands who have missed out.

But this raises the question of cost and the logistics it will require to redeploy the thousands of election security personnel as well as polling officials throughout the country.

In fact, the police are already complaining about their allowances and more than K30 million [US$1.5 million] is still needed for the full election operation.

Last week the aggrieved candidates in a signed petition demanded Electoral Commissioner Andrew Trawen to remove and replace his election manager in Kandep with a neural person because of his alleged biased and involvement with incumbent and THE Party Leader Don Polye.

however, Mr. Trawen has insisted in his response to the petition that he was give the power under the constitution to appoint retuning officer and did not further say whether he would remove Mr. Keae’s appointment or not.

In a turn of events for the last six days, places that never reported a hijack of ballot papers and boxes have now done it – like East New Britain, Bougainville and in Wewak. Yesterday in Wosera Gawi, two razor blades were found in a ballot box with 17 out of 826 ballot papers missing. The Defence Force soldiers, together with former PNGDF Special Force Commander Paul Malken retrieved the ballot box and sorted the mess out.

Voters, candidates and the media panned the two-week voting process, which began last Saturday and is proceeding in the face of massive obstacles.

Voting kicked off to a rocky start, with myriad problems reported in several parts of the country.

In Tari in Hela Province, residents have complained there are not enough ballot papers.

The Electoral Commission had planned to carry out one-day voting across the Highlands, which is home to more than half the country’s estimated 4.6 million voters.

Police commissioner Tom Kulunga said during Saturday’s visit to the region he would request an extension of voting.

In Tari, police fired five warning shots into the air above frustrated voters after a fight broke out at a booth.

In Port Moresby this week, where the general election is continuing, there have been complaints of irregularities on the voting registry in Port Moresby.

A lot of people expressed frustration that their names weren’t on the roll and also confusion and frustration at this new way of conducting polling in the City where you go to a polling booth according to your surname.

There are 4.6 million people registered to vote and 3,428 candidates are vying for just 109 parliamentary seats, with no single political party likely to win enough seats to form government on its own.

There are 4,700 polling stations — 1,700 of which are so remote they are only accessible by air.

Police also say they have arrested a gang posing as policemen to hijack ballot boxes during the country’s general election.

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