Voting gets underway with PM O'Neill leading the way

23/06/2012 16:20

Prime Minister Peter O'Neill cast his vote today in his Kauwo village in Southern Highlands.

Picture courtesy of Russell Saigomi.



Voting has started in Papua New Guinea (PNG) with Prime Minister Peter O’Neill leading the way in his Southern Highlands electorate of Ialibu-Pangia.

The Southern Highlands, which hosts the $US16 billion ExxonMobil-led PNG LNG Project and was the scene of failed elections in 2002, and neighbouring Hela are two Highlands provinces where one-day polling is being conducted.  

PNG’s Highlands provinces have been identified as hot spots for potential electoral violence, compelling authorities to schedule voting on separate days for Chimbu (2 July), East Highlands (5 July), Enga (26 June), Jiwaka (29 June) and Western Highlands (29 June) to ensure security and logistical resources are not stretched and can effectively deal with trouble.

According to the PNG electoral commissioner Andrew Trawen, approximately 30,000 polling officials were moved from provincial capitals to polling stations in preparation for today’s voting. Most of PNG’s 22 provinces are expected to go the polls today, while voters in the PNG capital Port Moresby will have to wait until next Tuesday 26 June to cast their votes.

The electoral commissioner is confident the presence of 8000 PNG Defence Force (PNGDF) soldiers and police should deter any threats of violence.

“I am confident voters in these elections will be able to cast their votes without fear, intimidation and undue influence. Voters have every right to expect a safe and secure environment to vote as security will be provided to try to ensure that the voting environment is conducive for all voters – women, men and people with disabilities,” said Mr Trawen.

Heavy PNG Defence Force (PNGDF) presence at the Tari court house in Southern Highlands.

Picture courtesy of Alexander Nara.

However, while he is confident of trouble-free elections the reported deaths of 19 people from election-related violence in the Highlands – before the start of polling – raises the prospect of this general election being marred by unprecedented electoral conflict.

Voting is already underway in other parts of the country. In the coastal province of Milne Bay on the eastern tip of PNG, government broadcaster NBC reported that voting had started in some local level government areas.

“Polling is scheduled to begin today but most electorates receive their polling material including booths, boxes and papers today via dinghies, boats and barge (MV Milne Bay Atolls) and will officially commence their polling with their second stations on Monday. A couple, though, begin polling today including much of Alotau district – except Makamaka and parts of Suau,” said Alotau-based NBC reporter Priscilla Waikadi.

In Manus province, a group of islands north off the PNG mainland, one candidate Ronny Knight took to social media to express disappointment after members of his family could not find themselves on the common roll.

“Shame on Manus officials my sister Tania and all her grown kids are off the roll. Em fire lo ol stap (she is criticizing them right now). How can this be when they were all recorded house to house,” he posted.