Papua New Guinea votes in heavily guarded elections



The Manila Times

Asia And Oceania

PORT MORESBY: Voters headed to the polls on Monday for heavily guarded elections in Papua New Guinea, where millions live in poverty despite vast mineral and energy riches. About 10,000 police, army and corrections personnel have been mobilized for the vote in the Pacific island nation, which has a history of corruption and electionrelated killings. Australia deployed 130 troops with transport aircraft to help secure the lengthy voting process across the rugged, densely forested country of 9 million. “We want transparency, we want accountability and, above, all we want a safe, fair and secured polling period,” Prime Minister James Marape said after casting his ballot on the first day of voting. Election rivalries can quickly spill over into bloodshed in Papua New Guinea, especially in its remote and mountainous highlands provinces. In the last vote in 2017, Australian National University monitors documented more than 200 election-related killings and widespread “serious irregularities.” This year, 15 election-related deaths have already been recorded, according to police. In the highland province of Enga, a candidate was charged with shooting and killing the supporter of a political rival on June 26, police told local media. Marape conceded in an end-of-campaign message that there was still “rampant corruption in all strata of public service.” The premier, who has promised to make the country the “richest black Christian nation,” said there had been a lack of development despite the country’s “God-given” resources. “I admit there is much more to be done for our country,” said Marape, who leads the Pangu party. He faces a stiff challenge from his predecessor Peter O’Neill, who resigned as leader three years ago under pressure over endemic corruption and a perceived failure to spread mining wealth to the people. O’Neill, who belongs to the People’s National Congress party, has vowed to attract private investment and revive the resources industry. The country boasts large deposits of gas, oil, gold and copper, and is an exporter of forestry and agricultural products. “There are worrying signs around our nation that the election has been very poorly prepared for and interference seems rife,” O’Neill charged. “I hope the good officers of our security forces at all levels can ensure we have free, fair and safe elections.” Voting is scheduled to take up to 18 days and an outcome is not expected to be clear until August.