19 Jan 2017

PNG's Polye questions independence of Electoral Commissioner

6:43 am on 19 January 2017

PNG's opposition leader has again expressed his deep concern over the independence of the Electoral Commissioner as the country nears general elections.

Papua New Guinea opposition leader Don Polye.

Papua New Guinea opposition leader Don Polye. Photo: Supplied

Don Polye has also warned that progress on updating the common roll has been slow and subject to manipulation.

The Commissioner, Patalius Gamato, has been under pressure from opposition MPs and civil society to not bow to pressure by the Prime Minister Peter O'Neill or his national executive council in relation to preparations for the five-yearly poll.

Mr Polye said there was a lack of transparency around the common roll preparation and has warned about last minute government plans to tweak election rules in Parliament.

The changes include shortening the election campaign period from two months to one, and raising the candidate fee from 1000 to 10,000 kina.

Mr Polye has called on Mr Gamato to remain outside of political influence and not change the standard democratic practice of PNG elections.

He also says plans to have ballot papers printed in Indonesia, the first time in PNG's history that the papers would be printed outside of the country.

The Government has criticised Mr Polye for politicising election issues, with Mr O'Neill saying the 2017 elections will be free and fair.

"We cannot allow the wastage and exorbitant cost that was seen at previous elections to continue," he said.

He indicated that every effort would be made to ensure security around the polling process, which usually takes at least two weeks.

The elections are due for mid to late June, subject any moves by MPs to defer the official period.

This is Mr Gamato's first general elections as Commissioner, a position which typically comes under intense pressure in PNG where holding elections brings massive logistical challenges.

However the opposition leader has suggested that the Commissioner has begun parroting the prime minister in his replies to him.

"He (Gamato) should not be playing politics by telling me to mobilise numbers to stop the bill from being passed," said Mr Polye.

"He has told me to mobilise numbers. That is what Peter O'Neill always tells me too.

"It is not about mobilising numbers. It is about (whether) what he is doing is right or wrong.

Common roll accuracy seen as key to smooth PNG's elections.

Hela province, Papua New Guinea.

Hela province, Papua New Guinea. Photo: RNZI / Johnny Blades

A former mayor of Tari, the capital of Papua New Guinea's Hela province, says this year's elections can go smoothly if the roll is in order.

Problems with the electoral roll have plagued recent PNG general elections, including in the Highlands region where inter-tribal unrest lingers.

Hela is currently at the centre of a major police and military deployment aimed at countering tribal violence.

While fighting has abated since the deployment three weeks ago, there are hopes that it remains peaceful during elections in June.

A former Tari mayor, George Tagobe, said there are perceptions in the province that some of the results from the last elections were rigged.

"In this election, if the common roll is updated fairly and if we can allow people to vote rightfully, I don't think there will be any problem."

"But if the common roll is not prepared properly and people are stuffed around, then that's the time I think they will show their frustration," he said.