PNG govt needs to act immediately to stem election violence

1:45 pm on 20 October 2022
Police and electoral officials call out names of voters to come and vote, Timini, Morobe Province.

Police and electoral officials call out names of voters to come and vote, Timini, Morobe Province. Photo: RNZI/ Johnny Blades

It is not yet clear whether the Papua New Guinea Government is willing to make the significant moves necessary to ensure an end to election violence.

The just-completed poll has been called the most violent in the country's 47 years of independence.

University of PNG political scientist and current PhD student at the Australian National University Michael Kabuni said the government needs a complete rethink on its approach to elections to ensure the next poll is not enveloped in mayhem.

He said this must include such things as a major expansion of the country's police service to ensure there is adequate policing and rein in lawlessness.

He said the present ratio of police to citizens is about 1:1300 and this is far too few for a country like Papua New Guinea.

Kabuni said while the government has talked of changes, it, and its predecessors, have often failed to follow through.

But he commended their initial effort.

"The good news is they have appointed East Sepik Governor Allan Bird to lead this committee to look into how the elections were conducted and what went wrong and what should be done to improve elections in the future. And he is someone who can get this done," he said

Kabuni said previous governments had become fixated on ensuring there was no violence on election day but failed to complete other strands of the process.

This included a well-funded Electoral Commission, an accurate census, and an up-to-date electoral roll going into the event.

"So this focus on election day is the reason that they get it wrong, because elections are a process. And there are things that need to be done right before election day because one process relies on another. So the government has to start thinking about these things starting now in fact," he said.

Kabuni said a renewed commitment needs to be evident in the new budget next month.

When it comes to policing he said much of the criminality during the last election happened because people had a sense of impunity.

"And that is partly the reason why the violence that used to be restricted to the Highlands region during elections - and we have just seen that in Port Moresby with people, with bush knives, chopping each other on the streets in Port Moresby. And that is partly because of this sense that you can break the law and you can walk away."