PAUL FLANAGAN | PNG Economics
ON Friday, the Papua New Guinean electoral commissioner, Patilias Gamato, issued a media release responding to claims made about the inadequacies of the 2017 voter common roll.
More intriguing, he seriously misrepresented what he himself tried to demonstrate in his media release.
Firstly, on the ludicrous claim that one cannot compare the 2017 electoral roll with the 2011 census (claiming that they are apples and oranges), he himself had made this exact same comparison on 9 April:
“This [the new electoral enrolment form] may reach one million and over and may contribute to a highly inflated 2017 roll as the number of eligible voters on the roll may equal or exceed the PNG population figure which is 7.5 million as per the 2011 census figures.”
So why can the electoral commissioner be permitted to make such a comparison, but no one else?
Second, doing a check on the ratio of the electoral roll to the expected voting age population is a standard and fundamental check on roll integrity.
This comparison is used in assessing electoral fairness throughout the world – including in PNG.
For example, in the Australian foreign affairs department assessment of its assistance to the PNG electoral commission from 2002 to 2012, it constantly uses the ratio of electoral roll to population as the basis for assessing the quality of the roll and Australia’s previous assistance in this area.
Third, Mr Gamato indicates I was trying to do a comparison between the quality of the 2012 electoral roll and the 2017 roll.
I would have liked to have done this comparison, but the electoral commission had not previously released data which allowed a test of a bias towards People’s National Congress electorates.
So all I was able to do previously was to examine the 2017 roll - and all indications are that it is incredibly biased towards PNC.
The electoral commissioner should unquestionably release more information to the public – doing so would have helped stop the devastating blow to PNG’s election credibility caused by the resignation of the entire electoral advisory committee,
It resigned on the grounds that it was not provided with such information.
Fourth, Gamato shot himself in the foot as an an unintended outcome of this provision of additional information, which now allows a broad comparison to be made between electoral bias in the 2012 and 2017 electoral rolls.
The new information shows that, while there has been a commendable reduction in the number of excess electors (inflated rolls or ghost voters) on the common roll, the reduction has been concentrated in non-PNC areas.
So while it is commendable that the average size of ghost voters has fallen from 7,500 per PNC electorate to 6,000 per electorate, it is extraordinary that the reduction in non-PNC areas has been much greater (from around 4,000 per electorate to under 500 – and a negative number when statistical outliers are excluded).
This ghost-busting effort is 23% for PNC areas (pretty poor) but it is 89% for non-PNC areas – a noteworthy achievement. But this is a very biased pattern of “ghost-busting” which helps O’Neill’s position.
On the basis of this substantial bias, Mr Gamoto should resign.
Finally, it is worth noting that, despite the abuse of the power of incumbency by the O’Neill government shown in the biased electoral roll, the election results overall do show the Papua New Guinean voters’ desire for change.
We must hope for a unified front in those seeking a change, a change needed to deal with corruption, poor governance and the disappointing economic and budgetary and exchange rate performance of the last five years.