Election diary: How will our children remember this violent time?
01 August 2017
THE sound of shrieking children playing slowed my heart beat and brought a feeling of normalcy. My heart had been pumping furiously every day since election writs were issued.
It seemed that the children sensed it was safe to play after the nightmare – gunshots, deaths, destruction and chaos - of the past couple of weeks in Wabag town.
But I’m sure those children will never forget the sad events of this time which we hope will culminate with the formation of a new government on the floor of parliament, and a new prime minister, on Wednesday.
How will those children ever forget our young neighbourhood mother who lost her infant as she fled for her life from the hospital? She had been struggling to give birth in the maternity ward when assailants started destroying Wabag General Hospital in a surprise attack.
The woman gave birth to a stillborn child hours later in her house in town. She had to be strong and brave to survive the ordeal in the face of such mindless election violence.
The attack on the hospital started after Governor Peter Ipatas was declared winner of the Enga regional seat over at the Wabag police station. But why people attacked the hospital with all the patients inside was hard to comprehend.
Hooligans smashed the hospital fence, ransacked the pharmacy, vandalised the ambulances, overturned hospital beds, destroyed offices and threatened patients and staff.
How will the children ever forget the gunshots fired day and night for the last few days resulting in six deaths including two mobile squad police officers and seriously wounding a third. Attempts were also made on the lives of election officials, some being hospitalised with severe gunshot wounds.
How will they ever forget the scenes of death and destruction and reports of killings, kidnap attempts and vote rigging on social and mainstream media?
Certainly I will remember the 2017 election as one of the most controversial, chaotic and corrupt.
I have participated in many national and provincial elections as a presiding officer. I never saw such a frightening and chaotic election in which police officers were gunned down in the heart of a town crawling with army and police personnel.
Of course, there was more death and destruction in many parts of the province following the 2012 elections. Over 100 people died in a guerrilla-type tribal war which lasted for over a year.
But this election was worse and there seemed to be no answers as to why the people had become so defiant.
Meanwhile, counting continues in some parts of the country while those people, all men, already elected have established separate camps in Alotau and Kokopo to plan moves to form government.
The people’s mandate has been entrusted to individual members and whether they make the right decision will determine the progress or regress of PNG for our all our children, like those I hear happily playing outside.
My diary is full of terrible events that I want to share with you.
Tuesday 25 July – All quiet now. See people beginning to walk around. Went out for the first time. Walked down to the Indian shop and bought flex cards and three cans of Coke for friends in the house. On the way back home, I gave the soft drinks to some soldiers manning a strategic point overlooking the Wabag Primary School where counting was taking place. The soldier said a big ‘thank you’. I thought counting was suspended for Kandep electorate but had resumed. Hear Polye took the lead by about 300 votes. The race is on between these two candidates.
Wednesday 26 July - Polye’s supporters marched into town to stop counting the Kandep boxes. But hear counting was continuing. Went to see George Marke, the assistant returning officer for Kandep, at the hospital. He was in bad shape but smiled when he saw me. We went to school together at Kandep Primary ‘T’ School in the 60s. Recovering nearby was Tawale Kondal who had been shot in the foot. And a bullet had gone right through George and he had been operated on. They complained their medical fees had not been paid for by the Electoral Commission. No words of comfort from the EC either. They didn’t seem happy.
Got an email request from Liam Fox of the ABC in Brisbane. At 3pm EMTV election result updates, relatives of late Jimmy, the cop from Jiwaka, killed in Wabag demanded justice. I was touched to see his young son and widow who was pregnant with their second child. Sad state of affairs in this beautiful country.
Thursday 27 July – Liam Fox of the ABC interviewed me on the phone about the chaotic election situation. Described it as terrible, chaotic, frightening etc. Heard Polye’s people were again trying to stop the counting. I can’t see any reason why authorities should continue counting when one party is not happy. Can’t they see that innocent people die in power struggles? I hear dancing in the street. Dr Lino has won the Wabag seat. There is also singing over at Irelya. Maybe Governor Ipatas won too.
I sincerely hope Philip Kikala wins the Lagaip Porgera seat. There are many incomplete million kina projects he will have to complete this term – Development Bank building in Laigam town, technical institute at Mamale village, Mapumanda Police station, CIS staff houses, chicken factory and many more. He started the projects during his 1997-2002 tenure.
At 4:48pm heard four gunshots from the other side of Kop Creek. Is it Dr Lino’s supporters celebrating or Polye’s supporters expressing their disgust over counting of Kandep ballot boxes? At 5:47 pm read in PNG Attitude the last words of late Jimmy. Touching. So sorry son.
Disturbing 6pm EMTV news – Pastor Tonde, the third runner-up sworn in as Moresby North West MP in a hotel room. But Sir Mekere Mourata had successfully ousted Michael Malabag earlier on at the counting venue. Absurd, unbelievable, a conspiracy to steal the seat. No news about Kandep counting. Suspending counting will satisfy many people.
Friday 28 July – Heard four gunshots last night. Locals or security forces? The birds are still singing this morning like they always do. Can’t people live like birds, happy all the time? I must applaud supporters of Pato Potane and Robert Ganim whose houses are three blocks apart on the same street and in full view but their supporters never confronted each other. Supporters of Kandep candidates must learn from these peole. Attempts to steal Sir Mekere’s seat, violence in Mt Hagen, violence in Wabag, violence in Kundiawa, kidnaping attempts, vote rigging and electoral roll rorts. Desperate people trying harder to obtain power. May God help us.
Saturday 29 July - About 9:26am Governor Ipatas sworn in. 9:30 shots fired in the east, in the direction of Pawas and Irelya. Saw people running up the highlands highway towards Wabag town. People broke the hospital main gate. Rush of people into the hospital carpark. Start smashing cars parked outside. See people throwing stones into the hospital premises. Patients fleeing. Windows cracking, doors smashing. Sounds of panic stricken people. Total confusion. See one man try to drive one of the damaged vehicles away. Is he the owner?
Feel for George Marke and Tawale Kondal in Ward 3. I hope they stay put and not panic. What about the other patients, men, women, children? Something I didn’t think would happen is happening right now. People destroying Enga’s main hospital. Where are the police? Some brave staff members are fighting off the attackers. By 10am, the army arrive in two vehicles. The one that came on the Hidden Valley road fired three warning shots. Attackers withdraw.
10:46 am I hear more shots fired over at the police station. What’s happening there? More shots in town. I see two white 10-seaters speeding down the road towards Pawas village. 11:04 am, one single shot heard over in town. People trying to loot shops? 11:20am over ten more shots fired in town, then one more fired. I can’t count the gunshots anymore, there are too many as in a war. I see thick smoke bellowing into the grim angry skies. There is rain now.
To the north on Lankep Street, I hear people chanting. I see a chopper coming in. Lands at the Mommers soccer oval. Amidst more chanting the chopper takes off. Flies over Pawas village, u-turns and heads off in a northerly direction. I hear people say Dr Lino is going to Maramuni first to thank people there for voting him.
11:48am, I hear more shots towards Pawas. There is thick smoke from a couple of burning houses. I am wondering why these houses are being burnt. And why an important asset like the Wabag General Hospital had been destroyed. 2:20pm celebrations of another declaration. Is it Pato Rimbink or one of the candidates for the Laigaip Porgera seat? 3:52pm I hear more clapping and cheering? Who has won? And which seat is it? There is no celebration in Philip Kikala’s house which is next to mine. So I know he has lost.
Sunday 30 July – It’s raining this morning. Philip Kikala’s people are leaving for Laiagam. I hear Tomait Kapili had won. He and Philip Kikala are both from the major Tia tribe. The Lagaip Porgera seat is theirs now. Their supporters would sing the same victory song as they all drive up to Laiagam this morning.
I met Tomait Kapili at the Yaskom Resort Hotel at Sirunki last year. I was with late Yasowa Kome and Henry Tamarua. He said to us: ‘I will win the Lagaip Porgera seat, you wait and see.’ And indeed he has won. I wish I will have the chance to advise Mr Tomait to work closely with Mr Philip Kikala. I hope the member elect will complete some very important projects Kikala had started when he himself was member. Millions of kina in public funds had been used to start those projects like the bank building in Laiagam town, CIS, Technical Institute and others. If Mr Kapili will complete those, he will last a second term instead of only one term the Lagaip Porgera seat rotates like as if it was a yoyo.
10:28am six gunshots heart amidst singing in town. Two more gunshots but chanting still continuing. Part of celebrations? The songs are in the Laiop dialect so they must be Pato Rimbink’s supporters. Then I hear more gunshots like at a war zone. I wonder what’s happening. I see loads of trucks driving down the highway towards Pawas. Then I hear a single gunshot. See people scattering at Pawas market. The people who drove down the highway are driving back up. They then turn left towards Keas village, to Aipus and down the highway to Wapenamanda.
10:47am hear more gunshots. All this shooting happening when it’s still raining. 11:40 am Wabag town is quiet again. Later on I hear Mr Moku Kopyla’s house and property destroyed in Wapenamanda. Moku was the district returning officer. Mick Kaeok’s supporters were reportedly angered when Mr Kopyala declared Rimbink with two ballot boxes still remaining.
This 2017 national elections has certainly been a mixed bag of violence, death and destruction in some parts while cooperation and acceptance of defeat prevailed in other parts of the country. I conclude that this was one of the most poorly organised elections I ever experienced.
Footnote - Wabag General Hospital has been suspended for the next two weeks and will remain closed. A new government will be formed tomorrow but that won't solve immediate health needs of people.
Despite all the glamour of infrastructural development, we continue to take giant leaps backward in protecting the weakest in our society.
Posted by: Stanley Amben | 05 August 2017 at 06:35 PM
Sad, sad day for a country that has so much potential and promise!
Posted by: John K Kamasua | 04 August 2017 at 09:58 PM
I wrote here about how a young woman gave birth to a still born infant after she fled from the Wabag General Hospital when it was suddenly attacked when she was struggling in the labour ward.
A couple of days later some women were raped in more election related violence in the town vicinity. It seems women will continue to bear the brunt for situations they have no control or directly responsible for.
Posted by: `Daniel Kumbon | 04 August 2017 at 05:51 PM