21 Aug 2013

PNG police quell Mt Hagen tensions

4:58 pm on 21 August 2013

Police in Papua New Guinea's third-largest city Mt Hagen have managed to quell tension over local government elections which saw roads and the airport shut and water supplies cut.

Candidates and their supporters were angry over the PNG Electoral Commissioner's decision to declare a failed election in five local-level governments in the Western Highlands Province.

Our correspondent in Papua New Guinea, Todagia Kelola, told Sally Round the havoc followed earlier unrelated student clashes.

TODAGIA KELOLA: After the provincial police commander spoke with them they assured him that, yes, they were just frustrated by the announcement by the Chief Electoral Commissioner. Now, things have gone back to normal.

SALLY ROUND: So what actually happened yesterday?

TODAGIA KELOLA: There were no clashes, but angry candidates of the local-level government, after hearing that the Chief Electoral Commissioner declared the elections null and void, they, with their supporters, went and got big trucks and blocked off the island's highway. They also blocked off the road leading to Kagamuga Airport, where planes come in. They blocked that off, also. And the airport was shut down. They also went and closed the... The main water supply to Mt Hagen city was shut off. They were really aggressive and the situation was really tense. The police up in Mt Hagen were outnumbered. All the candidates combined together to cause this havoc, but the police after speaking with them and telling them that, 'Let's let government services flow to the people. And if you have something against the electoral commissioner you do it in a proper way, maybe a petition. Give it to your local MP to present to the prime minister who'll then talk to the Chief Electoral Commissioner'. Yesterday, also, the Chief Electoral Commissioner held a news conference in the afternoon and he was adamant that he will not change his declaration of the election being declared null and void. Now, the chief secretary to government, Manasupe Zurenuoc, who is also the chairman of the National Security Council, also had an urgent meeting with his team. They met and, after assessing the reports from the aggrieved candidates on the ground, he has stated that maybe the electoral commissioner may have gone overboard by declaring it null and void. He will try talking to the Chief Electoral Commissioner in changing the stance that he has taken.