Journalist Mark Davis continues his summary of the main issues arising in the lengthy Australian National University report on the 2017 Papua New Guinea national election. Mark documents election violence including an undisclosed level of murder and looting that has extended to this day
You can link to it in full here
CAIRNS - According to the ANU report, violence by candidates and their gangs, and police and Defence Force elements (both institutions comprehensively corrupted by People’s National Congress) reached unprecedented levels during the 2017 election.
Observers and citizens reported curtailing their movements throughout the campaign, polling and post-polling periods due to the violence and insecurity which punctuated the elections from start to finish.
The ANU observation team documented and witnessed election-related violence in all but three of the 69 electorates in which it undertook detailed observations.
This included 204 deaths due to election-related violence, hundreds of injuries and the large-scale destruction of property.
There were reports by media and independent witnesses of deaths, injury and other forms of violence in the remaining 42 electorates. Some independent observers put the death toll as high as 234, and even then believe their estimates are conservative.
Four police were shot and killed in Southern Highlands Province in a post-election flare-up.
More than 10,500 security personnel took part in the election. Despite that, ANU observer teams in all four regions who had witnessed prior elections reported that 2017 was the most violent they had seen, and citizens surveyed tended to agree, with two-thirds saying 2017 was worse than 2012.
Police and Defence Force brutality or the use of excessive force was common. The report states:
“In Hela, Eastern Highlands and National Capital District observers witnessed security personnel driving their vehicles at speed into crowds in order to disperse those who had gathered, and in several locations security personnel were observed firing either warning shots or shots directly into gathered crowds. Civilian deaths resulted in Southern Highlands, Hela, Enga and Gulf provinces."
ANU observers directly witnessed violent altercations leading to serious injury, death or major property damage:
“The level of insecurity experienced by observers in 2017 was unprecedented. Several observers were threatened in relation to their work and a number, as in 2012, were assaulted. Individual observers in Hela, Western Highlands, Enga and NCD were assaulted by security personnel whilst carrying out their duties.
"An observer in Southern Highlands narrowly escaped being shot when police fired upon the crowd outside of Mendi police station. His brother who was with him at the time was not so lucky, being shot in the leg.
"Observers in places as diverse as Tari, Mendi, Kundiawa, Popondetta, Kavieng and Rabaul, were caught up in election violence, while observers in Rabaul and Mt Hagen had to be relocated for their own safety. In addition, two very experienced observers in Mt Hagen withdrew from the observation prior to polling due to fear for their personal safety.”
The report also provides evidence of police and security forces engaging in election-rigging:
“During a break in counting in Mt Hagen, a soldier alleged that some security personnel were working to ensure the government’s re-election. He made the following unverified comment to observers: ‘This election was planned from start to finish by the PNC. Millions has been pumped into specific people in power to ensure PNC candidates and those in alliance with PNC win.
"'The PNGDF Commander and the Electoral Commissioner are both involved and because of this my commanding officer ordered us to deliver 16 extra ballot boxes with papers to a particular place in the Western Highlands. You will see all of the candidates who win in Western Highlands, Enga and Southern Highlands they all have connections with senior PNGDF officers. The PNGDF plays a major role in determining who wins and they have the power to make a candidate win or lose’.”
Both the police and Defence Force commanders are close to prime minister Peter O’Neill and are ardent supporters of his People's National Congress. Defence Force commander Gilbert Toropo is a relative of O’Neill’s.
Threats and intimidation, where observed, were considered more brazen than in past elections, the report states:
“....in Central Bougainville a high-profile candidate and ex-combatant directly threatened to reignite the Bougainville conflict if the constituents of his electorate did not vote for him. In Hagen Open, settlers and migrant workers from neighbouring provinces were again threatened with eviction if they did not surrender their votes to the local candidates and in Hela Province, candidates reported having to pay off warlords in order to campaign in particular areas. Some went further and engaged the services of these warlords to control voting on polling day.
“In the Eastern Highlands and Chimbu, candidates also engaged the services of youth, strongmen and even criminals to provide muscle for their campaigns. According to observers, one candidate in Obura-Wonenara Open was reputed to have bailed out convicted criminals to support his campaign, while in Gumine Open voters were threatened and terrorised by youth squads referred to locally as the ‘30-man squads’.
“One man interviewed post polling had this to say: ’[One candidate] spent millions on his campaign buying votes. Individual sub-clans were given amounts ranging from tens of thousands to hundreds of thousands. He also engaged several 30-man squads to control voters. These youth squads were armed with high powered weapons and terrorised voters. The people had no freedom to cast their votes. They were powerless and cast their votes in fear.’
“Similar accounts were recorded in Kundiawa-Gembol Open. Observers there likewise witnessed large amounts of cash (K50,000 – K60,000 - $A15,000-20,000 ) distributed at the ward level to key leaders. The amount given to any particular individual, they said, was dependent on the level of influence that person has on his or her community. They also noted the critical role played by youth.
“ ‘Youth are the powerhouse driving this election’, one Kundiawa-Gembogl observer reported. They are involved in so many ways: providing security, voter intimidation, as drivers and handyman, as pimps, as messengers between candidates and as scrutineers’.
“Outside of the Highlands there were also reports of criminal elements seeking to influence the conduct of the elections. Late in the campaign period a group of seven heavily armed men in camouflage gear were detained near Kimbe. Media reports indicate that police confiscated a large quantity of 9mm factory-made rounds, a Glock semi-automatic 9mm pistol, a homemade 12-gauge shotgun, three shotgun cartridges, a box of unspecified ammunition, and a magazine containing as further 17 9mm rounds.
"West New Britain Provincial Police commander, Jim Namora, said the seven were believed to be part of a wider network of known criminals and convicted felons sponsored by candidates “to be members of a quasi-military group orchestrated for the 2017 polling”.
PNC youths carrying high-powered semi-automatic firearms were involved in shoot-outs with security forces, and in some electorates, the notorious police mobile squads were used to harass and intimidate Opposition candidates and their election teams. Home invasions and bashings at gunpoint were not unusual.
The deaths and violence continued long after the election, and recent incidents in Enga and Milne Bay provinces have been attributed to fallout from the rigged national poll.
Mark Davis worked as a media adviser to Sir Mekere Morauta, former prime minister and Member for Moresby North-West in the national parliament