Election in PNG an orchestrated mess

Stories of the election shambles continue. It has now reached the stage where we begin to feel somehow disloyal when we talk about it. If we talk about the issues we create an unfavourable impression of the country, drive investors further away and drive the value of the Kina further down. If we do not talk, compare notes, and ask questions we seem to be surrendering our right to be heard, and delivering this right to those who seem intent on robbing us of our rights.

Somehow we feel the process is so incredibly messy the mess itself may have been orchestrated. There has never been an event so apparently badly flawed. We do things better than this. Whatever criticism people might like to level at PNG it must still be acknowledged that this is a country of organisers and organising events is something the country does with style. But then that too is a worry.

One recalls the precision timing of the government appointment of a "governor" in the Southern Highlands which saw nearly K4 million out of the provincial treasury and into the hands of government supporters just ahead of the court decision on the validity of the appointment. Clever stuff. Unanswered questions. No apparent action taken but the money gone. Is it possible that people who could plan such an operation could also have been involved in plans to deliberately destroy the electoral process? These are the questions which haunt many of us.

If we could leave aside the incredible stories of armed men, with state of the art military weaponry, stealing the electoral process, blowing up the ballot boxes and kidnapping electoral officials we would also be able to report on the many, many places where things appeared to work well. The good stories tell us of happy people enjoying a social occasion, going to the polls and making their decisions, watching the ballot boxes sealed and seeing them, later re-opened and counted in the way we all expected these things to be done.

If we put aside the stories of women leaving the queues, giving up their right to vote because they felt intimidated by the behaviour of "supporters" of candidates at polling booths, we would be also able to speak of places where un-harassed women proudly joined the throngs of voters and made their choices.

If we could try to isolate the negative images of soldiers and police assisting people cheat others of the right to have their votes fairly recorded and look at the behaviour of so many very good and honest police and soldiers we would help restore some confidence in the community and the legitimacy of our current elections.

But even if we did this we would still have a large number of concerns to be addressed.

We keep thinking of the AusAid people who explained to us how this was to be the best election ever. The enrolment process was going to make sure that we were enrolled carefully and honestly. We would each be obliged to have our right to enrolment confirmed by a local leader who would know who we were and whether we eligible. We were told that double voting would be impossible because the new, stronger Indian tested ink would not come off. This was to have been the election in which the out of date rolls would be largely corrected and following which the next election would see the few inadequacies addressed.

We have already told of the struggle to find names on the lists at Sapphire Creek and the way we found the names of two young children on the list. The story gets worse and worse. We are told time and time again by different people that THEY have cleaned the ink from their fingers and voted twice, thrice and even more often. They have no concept of this being wrong. They see it as being a legitimate way of countering the behaviour of others that did the same.

The attractive young woman we know, when it was found that she was already incorrectly listed as having voted, being told to use another name the electoral officer was able to show her in the list. So it seems she used someone else's name as directed by the helpful official and that someone else had used hers!

Then there were Catholic sisters who, when their names could not be found, were offered (again by the trained officials) other names to claim as theirs so they could vote. The sisters, we are proud to report, declined the offer. Full marks to the polling officials for being helpful but for goodness sake... this is our election! This is our future!

We are told of a foreign priest, who took some nuns to the polling station, being advised by one of the electoral officials there that his name was on the roll and that he should vote. When Father asked how he could vote if he was not a citizen the official assured him that his name on the role meant he had the right and duty to vote and that he should do his duty. Father, confused but apparently trusting the knowledge of the official, took the advice and voted. He still wonders how his name made it onto the roll and sports the voter's ink stain on his finger.

Other people have not been so privileged. A whole convent of nuns in Bomana, definitely eligible to vote, found their names were missing from the roll and they have lived in the same place for nearly 40 years! Their neighbours are the students of the Catholic Theological Institute, a large group of citizens who enrolled en-masse. It should have been the simplest way of having a big group of people placed on the electoral roll with little trouble. But that was not to be.

Nearly all the students found their names not on the roll. And on the other side of the country the entire eligible student body and teachers of the minor seminary in Madang had made sure the enrolment was done. But when they presented themselves to vote not one of them was able to because, despite the effort to get enrolled, their names had not made it onto the list. And yet all over the country children found their names on the lists and once more people report dead men voting.....

A businessman in one troubled province is said to have saved one whole tribe the trouble of voting earlier this week, as he and his henchmen, so the story goes, did it for them.

Everywhere we look we hear of trouble. Yet it was to have been the election which was going to restore legitimacy to our electoral system! It was the electoral process supported by the experts of AusAid who, when we asked questions or suggested that we could see potential problems, refused to be budged from their positions of greater knowledge than us mere mortals. And we made the mistake of not persisting when THEY had the answers and WE looked untrusting, negative nerds!

We think of the unanswered messages we sent to the experts and the assurances we were given, in Electoral Commission briefing meetings, by the electoral commission staff. It is fascinating to think that an electoral process, which involved so many experts who KNEW all the answers, has somehow not been able to deliver a satisfactory response.

The Radio Australia News this morning told us that the Electoral Commissioner is in hiding. And we wonder. Can it be that he is holed up with the AusAid experts who knew the answers? Back down South somewhere?"

- from an email written by a PNG Bishops Conference official 'for general distribution'.