BRISBANE - The Commonwealth Observer Group that covered Papua New Guinea’s recent general election has just released its report.
The group was in PNG from 19 June to 10 July with a small team remaining four more day to observe part of the counting, but only in Port Moresby.
Unlike Australian foreign minister Julie Bishop’s walk back from her earlier statement that the poll was “successful”, this document largely builds on the observers’ interim report.
The impression conveyed is that observers conducted their mission largely unaware of, or were unwilling to comment in detail on, egregious violations of ethical, legal and proper practice. (For a summary of such malfeasance refer to this earlier article in PNG Attitude.)
The report begins with a few caveats. It says the election “was delivered in the face of significant funding, administrative and logistical challenges, including inclement weather, which hampered the PNG electoral commission’s ability to administer the election within the prescribed time period.”
It seems the group did not want to explore the genesis of these “funding, administrative and logistical challenges”, being content to say merely that they existed, thus depriving itself - and us - of a useful analytical tool.
The last point on weather was especially beguiling. After all, inclement (and worse) weather is hardly an unknown in PNG and any competent planning by the electoral commission would have taken that into account.
The observers move on to more specific matters, tending to pull their punches on some obvious acts of illegality, such as fraud and coercion. Even the post-election violence (50 killed in Enga alone) tends to be underplayed.
There are recommendations relating to the enforcement of laws related to “bribery, undue influence and underage voting” and ensuring “sufficient distribution of ballot papers based on the numbers on the electoral roll”. But again there is no deeper investigation of the antecedents of these significant problems.
The report also notes as “unfortunate … significant issues with the voter registration process … with a large number of names missing from the electoral roll”.
By and large the temperature of the report is moderation rather than investigation. Output rather than input. On the big issues, fairly light touches framed so as not to upset the PNG government it seems.
Searching for the key word 'transparency', I found one mention, on page 25, in this context: “The group noted the concerns expressed by some stakeholders over the appointment process for Returning Officers, and encourage transparency over the selection process in future elections.”
Perhaps you see what I mean about pulled punches.
And before some snark complains that ‘this is what diplomats do’, allow me to remark that if these observer missions are intended as little more than public relations exercises to be ignored by the governments that are under scrutiny, then please spare the rest of us the façade of concern.
All that said, the report does evince a number of useful recommendations.
Unfortunately, if past practice is taken as a guide, these will be studiously ignored by the O’Neill government.