Papua New Guinea’s general election has descended into chaos after voting was suspended in the capital amid accusations of bribery and faked ballot papers and the campaign in other parts of the country became violent.
Voting opened for a two week period on 24 June, but was suspended in the capital Port Moresby this week after three election officials – including the election manager for Port Moresby – were arrested by police after found to be carrying over US$50,000 in cash, suspicious documents and ballot papers already filled in.
In the highlands ballot boxes had been stolen and destroyed, people were casting their votes without privacy in plain sight of officials and other voters, and fighting had broken out between rival clan groups and also between voters and police.
There were also reports from around the country that thousands of names have been left off the electoral role, particularly in regions who strongly oppose the government. Claims also surfaced that “ghost” names had been added to the electoral roll and votes cast.
At the University of Lae on Thursday Radio NZ reported 1500 ballot papers were burnt by students angry at election officials, and police fired on the crowd in an attempt to manage the situation which was quickly spiralling out of control.
Prior to the election the United Nations Development Programme has been involved in training and coordinating 880 election observers, of which 720 are PNG citizens.
In a statement UNDP said it would not be directly involved in observing the election or make any comment on the process.
Sir Francis Billy Hilly, former prime minister of the Solomon Islands, said the vastness of the PNG highland area and security issues posed serious challenges for the election observers sent from his country.
On his Facebook page Papua New Guinea prime minister Peter O’Neillappealed for calm across the country and said the election would go ahead and any issues were only “administrative”, and not indicative of vote tampering or corruption.
“Papua New Guinea is a great nation, a nation that is changing and evolving, and where our democracy is one of the most stable in the world.” he said.
There have been widespread calls from opposition politicians and the public for the electoral commissioner Patalias Gamato to resign, as he had lost control of the country’s election.
Former PNG prime minister Mekere Morauta told Radio New Zealand that this election was the most chaotic he had witnessed and said it was an organised attempt by the ruling political party, the People’s National Congress (PNC) to hold on to power.
“Unfortunately, this chaos is an organised one,” he said.
“It’s organised by PNC. Because PNC is likely to be wiped out in a very clean election.”
O’Neill called Morauta’s comments slanderous and untrue.
“If this was not election time these opposition members would find themselves in court facing civil lawsuit, and they may well face legal action after the election when we have time to look back.”
Voting will continue in PNG for another week.
Last year Transparency International ranked PNG as one of the most corrupt countries in the world, putting it at 136th among 176.
The tumultuous nation which shares a border with Indonesia has seven million people and 850 different language groups, and has been marred by decades of tribal conflict and instability, and endemic corruption among politicians and officials.