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Our closest neighbour on the brink of being a 'failed state' after deeply flawed national elections

By Jeffrey Wall - posted Friday, 22 July 2022


As polling, and counting, in Papua New Guinea's national elections drags on, our closest neighbour is desperately close to having a significant number of seats declared "failures" at the conclusion of counting.

These are dark and desperate times for a country where five yearly national elections are at the very heart of its normally robust parliamentary democracy.

In each of the elections since Independence in 1975 there were flaws - rolls that were not updated, destruction of ballot boxes, and the brutal killing of candidates and supporters by rivals.

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But the sum total of all the flaws in 1982, 1987, 1992, 1997, 2002, 2007, 2012 and 2017 does not equal the disaster that has been, and continues to be, the 2022 national elections, due to end in 8 days' time.

Apart from flawed rolls, a dubious part-redistribution, and doubts about the fair distribution of ballot papers, and the integrity of local electoral officials, the number of deaths directly attributable to election related violence now exceeds 50. And the destruction of houses, schools and even polling centres, has been massive and spread across at least half a dozen provinces.

The current prime minister's electorate of Tari-Pora was declared on Monday of last week - and between then and 20 July just FIVE more seats were declared. Only today, 20 July, will the seat of the current Prime Ministers main rival, Peter O'Neill be declared.

While Prime Minister James Marape, and his predecessor, Mr O'Neill, are logical favourites to be the new PM there will be other contenders who will emerge in the coming weeks as more seats are declared and the real "horse trading" will begin in earnest.

What is really causing concern among seasoned observers is the sheer number of serious flaws in polling and counting emerging in just about every part of Papua New Guinea. The number of flaws and the blatant nature of them combine to raise real doubts about the integrity of the electoral process from the very outset.

And it seems increasingly evident that the national elections organisers are simply not up to the challenge of delivering electoral outcomes that are fair and transparent in around 117 seats across a challenging environment in which there are 800 languages spoken with 80 per cent of the people living in rural and remote communities.

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Sadly, there is very little if anything Australia can do about it.

Papua New Guinea is an independent democracy. The national parliament is at the very heart of the democratic process. If the parliament is elected by a process that is flawed, or even worse rorted and corrupted, then public confidence in the parliament, the government and the prime minister and his ministers will disappear.

It is on the precipice already. The coming weeks will determine if it does go over the edge with catastrophic consequences for Papua New Guinea.

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About the Author

Jeffrey Wall CSM CBE is a Brisbane Political Consultant and has served as Advisor to the PNG Foreign Minister, Sir Rabbie Namaliu Prime Minister 1988-1992 and Speaker 1994-1997.

Other articles by this Author

All articles by Jeffrey Wall

Creative Commons LicenseThis work is licensed under a Creative Commons License.

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