KUNDIAWA - The Papua New Guinea electoral commission should consider a deteriorating law and order situation in Kundiawa before a recount of votes from the 2017 general election.
The long-delayed election of a new Simbu governor is occurring in a volatile climate of violence and arson as supporters of one of the candidates demand the venue for the recount be moved from Lae to a neighbouring province, preferably Goroka in the Eastern Highlands.
The national court ordered the recount completed by 7 February after a petition filed by former governor Noah Kool against the election result and the winning candidate Michael Dua.
After an affidavit was submitted by the electoral commission, the court also decided that Lae should be the recount venue.
The decision was badly received by governor elect Dua and his supporters.
Dua cited as his reasons in objecting were the distance, risks and costs to candidates and scrutineers in making their way to Lae. But the court dismissed his application for a change of venue.
An unhappy Michael Dua told the Post-Courier newspaper that the electoral commission had not consulted provincial authorities including the provincial administrator, police commander and the election manager before making the decision.
He said the electoral commission also did not give any reason for choosing Lae as the venue. However earlier this month electoral commissioner Patilias Gamata told the media Lae was “neutral ground” for the recount.
Since then, Dua’s supporters have taken control of Kundiawa town. The container containing the ballot boxes at the police station is being heavily guarded around the clock by his supporters.
Police have made two attempts to move the container to Lae but this has been prevented by Dua supporters.
The latest attempt to move the container last Thursday turned ugly when Dua and Kool factions engaged in a physical confrontation that continued through Friday.
At present Kundiawa has a serious breakdown of law and order and is in total chaos. With constant harassment of the public, the town is not safe for people, especially women and children. Houses had already been burned down at the time the national court handed down its decision for a recount.
Kundiawa police are overpowered and have no control of the situation. The problem is exacerbated by the absence of the feared Kerowagi Mobile Squad, which is currently under suspension.
It seems the only way to defuse more serious trouble is for the electoral commissioner to move the venue to Goroka, which is more readily accessible from Kundiawa.
With less than three weeks remaining for the completion of the recount, time is of the essence if the worsening law and order situation in Kundiawa is to be alleviated.
If the electoral commission does not reconsider the venue, the impasse is likely to continue. If the court-ordered date for the recount expires, Kool is likely going to file a motion for the court to award the win to him.
This would be disastrous for law and order, government, business and infrastructure throughout the Simbu Province.
There was an earlier instance of such mayhem in the Southern Highlands and the electoral commission should have learnt from this mistake.
To prevent further trouble the commission should organise a round table discussion with Dua, Kool and Simbu provincial authorities to agree on neutral ground for the recount.
Goroka offers both parties the best opportunity for this.