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Commonwealth observers ready for action

The observer group at the 2017 election was strongly criticised for its perceived failure to identify many  substantial problems around voting

Commonwealth-observer-speaks-with-commonwealth voters-in-Hela-Province-2012-Treva-Braun-Commonwealth-Sec-
Commonwealth observer speaks with voters in Hela Province, 2012 (Treva Braun | Commonwealth Secretariat)


NOOSA – A former president of Nauru, Baron Waqa, will lead the Commonwealth Observer Group to Papua New Guinea’s national election next month.

At the invitation of the PNG Electoral Commission, the Commonwealth Secretariat will deploy the Group to observe and report on the country’s national election scheduled to begin on 2 July.

The Commonwealth Secretary-General, Patricia Scotland QC has named the 10 members of the group [see below], who come from nine countries, including six Pacific Islands nations.

They will arrive in Port Moresby on 28 June and stay until the completion of the electoral process in late July.

The observers will be deployed throughout the country supported by a team from the Commonwealth Secretariat led by Linford Andrews, Head of the Electoral Support Section.

A pre-election assessment team visited PNG in March to finalise preparations for the complex operation.

Secretary-General Scotland said the deployment of the group demonstrates the Commonwealth’s commitment to supporting electoral democracy in member countries.

“It is also a recognition of the right of individuals to participate in democratic processes through credible, inclusive and transparent elections.

“Free elections shape their societies,” she said.

“I firmly believe that the observer group will provide an independent assessment of the electoral process and work together with the people and Government of Papua New Guinea to strengthen their democratic process.”

Commonwealth poll station
Polling station in Bougainville (Commonwealth Secretariat)

The group will observe and consider all aspects of PNG’s election process: the administration of polling stations, the voting process, the counting of ballot papers and announcement of results.

Under the leadership of ex-president Waqa, the group will determine whether the elections are conducted in line with the democratic standards to which PNG has committed itself.

Observers will act impartially and adhere to the standards of the International Declaration of Principles for Election Observation.

After the elections, the group will issue an interim statement of its preliminary observations and hold a press conference in Port Moresby.

A final report, which will include recommendations to help improve future electoral processes, will be presented to the PNG government and the Electoral Commission.

The report of the observer group at the 2017 election was strongly criticised for its perceived failure to identify many  substantial problems around voting which were reported by other individuals and organisations, including a well managed team from the Australian National University.

It was felt that, for diplomatic reasons, the Commonwealth Observer Group had withheld criticisms that should have been made.

Women vote at the 2017 election (Commonwealth Secretariat)

Commonwealth Observer Group members

HE Baron Divavesi Waqa – Chairperson, Former President of Nauru

Dr Nicole George, University Lecturer and Researcher, University of Queensland, Australia

Ms Makereta Komaidrue, Editor, Pacific Islands News Association, Fiji

Dame Winifred Laban, Assistant Vice-Chancellor (Pasifika), Victoria University of Wellington, New Zealand

Ms Makereta Vaaelua, Deputy Returning Officer, Electoral Commission of Samoa

Mr Hendrick Gappy, Former Chairman, Seychelles Electoral Commission

Hon Peter Kenilorea Jnr MP, Chairman, Foreign Relations Committee, Solomon Islands

Mr Johnson Honimae, Chief Executive Office, Solomon Islands Broadcasting Corporation

Ms Emeline Siale Ilolahia, Executive Director, Pacific Islands Association of Non-Governmental Organisations, Tonga

Mr Wilson Toa, Country Manager, Vanuatu Balance of Power


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William Dunlop

Bernard - Beware of Greeks bearing gifts, as the saying goes.

He speaks Klyminous Greek, as does Nick Paspaly and John Halicos. And he speaks Australian and North American.

Have yet to come across any Trojan horses.

KJ, Tis in my case my good family friend Bernadette Devlin who Bernard needs to be watching out for.

Bernadette, Bernard - they're probably related - KJ

Bernard Corden

My dear William - He is probably fluent in Indonesian and speaks the same language as Djoko Tjandra....

"Money doesn't talk it swears" - Bob Dylan

William Dunlop

My dear Bernard - I have drawn attention to the extended families of Andrew Liveris here in Darwin on your inclusion of his good name in this post of yours re election corrupters etc.

Beware, Bernard carries heat, has goons etc - KJ

Keith Jackson

So Arthur thinks my criticism that the 12-member Commonwealth Observer Group (COG) “pulled its punches” (that is softened criticisms and avoided total candour) in its report on PNG’s 2017 elections was “unfair”.

Let me compare the main conclusions from the executive summary of the COG report with the Australian National University (ANU) report of its observer mission of 258 election observers led by PNG election veteran associate professor Nicole Haley based at 945 polling stations around the country.

COG - The 2017 National Election was delivered in the face of significant funding, administrative and logistical challenges, including inclement weather [the executive summary's opening statement]

ANU - Democracy in last year’s Papua New Guinea national election was ‘hijacked’ in many places, with the vote undermined by brazen electoral fraud and unprecedented violence and insecurity. [A conclusion backed by Transparency International PNG which found the 2017 election “flawed to an unforgiveable extent”]

COG - Significant issues with the voter registration process were an unfortunate feature

ANU - An analysis of the vote found failures in the electoral roll, the theft and destruction of ballot boxes, and “money politics” – payments by candidates for votes – on a scale that was “qualitatively different to previous elections”

COG - Voters who were able to participate were generally free to exercise their democratic right

ANU - One third of citizens surveyed reported intimidation, one quarter reported that they did not vote – significantly higher rates than in 2012. Less than half reported they voted freely

COG - In most provinces women, the elderly and young people appeared largely unhindered in their participation in the process

ANU - Women fared the worst. Only two in five women reported voting freely, with about the same number reporting intimidation.

COG - The campaign period was competitive and broadly peaceful, although there were some isolated incidents of violence and a small number of deaths

ANU - Haley’s team, which included Australian and PNG academics, recorded 204 deaths during the election period. Some sources subsequently revised this to more than 300 deaths.

COG - The citizens of Papua New Guinea turned out in large numbers to express their franchise and, with a few exceptions, in a peaceful manner.

ANU - One third of citizens surveyed reported intimidation, one quarter reported that they did not vote. Less than half reported they voted freely

COG - While there were some variations to voting practices throughout the country, and adherence to secrecy of the ballot was inconsistent, generally, the polling staff and voters appeared knowledgeable in the processes and procedures

ANU - The 2017 elections were marred by widespread fraud and malpractice, and extensive vote rigging

COG - We were saddened by reports of election related violence during the counting period in the Highlands region which resulted in the loss of lives, including some members of the Police

ANU - In addition to 204 deaths, several hundred people were seriously injured or maimed. Lots of cases of people having limbs severed, people being chopped [with machetes] across the country, major property damage as well. Of the 43 electorates scrutinised by observers, there were only six in which there was no death or major property damage

In my original analysis of the COG report I stated that “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.”

I did not allege that the COG report was uncritical, I said it had pulled its punches. Any fair comparison between COG’s once over lightly effort and ANU’s comprehensive coverage and scrupulous attention to detail will reach the same conclusion.

Arthur Williams

I have just reread the 71 page 2017 July 10 Interim report of the Commonwealth group observing the 2017 general election at PDF

To say they 'avoided criticism of what they saw and heard' is unfair.
For instance Chapter 4 pp42 - pp57 give detailed observation of all areas of PNG during the voting process. It list almost all the failings you can think of.
Polling Ink
Whisper assisted votes;
Late opening;
Early Closing,
Shortage of ballot papers,
Alphabetic names called to vote (not first come first served);
Campaign posters etc displayed very near the voting areas;
Missing names on what they noted were actually the 2012 Electoral Roll with some 2017 updates;
Wrongly sealed ballot boxes at end of polling day;
Some security issues
Unequal electorate sizes ie Rabaul just over 22361 compared to 143497 Lagaip-Porgera
(I have been amazed that no PM worth his salt has not stopped Rabaul being so tiny! Or why Highland MPs allowed it. (On March 22 Marape just allowed 7 boundary alterations but left Rabaul untouched while at last splitting the Porgera one into two...but that still means it is about 4 times larger than ENB's capital... )

The main complaint I have heard for decades is the 'Votes are Bought'.
Some commentators consider the misuse of sitting MPs during their five years as being that. I would suggest that such a problem is not unique to PNG & the Yanks call it pork-barreling. We outside PNG would be naïve to think it didn't happen in our backyards.
The other obvious 'Buying Votes' idea make readers think that the elite big man's supporters are standing outside the polling area dolling out kina notes as voters go in or did they go round the villages passing out kina? Do other candidates observers and the polling team including police, army even CIS warders not notice?

How though do the bribers know that anyone who accepted the offered cash then voted for him (or her)? I immediately think of when a journo once asked one of Al Capone's underlings why they continued to bet on horse races if they had fixed a race. He replied that so many were doping the nags that nobody could know who would win. Surely that is or could be the problem with the theory of 'Buying Votes'?

In the Preamble to the Commonwealth 2017 Report at ppX-X1V there are many Recommendations and some near the end at pp57-pp58.

In its Annex 1V there is a more broad summary by Rt Hon Sir Anand Satyanand (New Zealand) its Chairperson. One highlight he comments upon was the the secrecy of voting was not consistent nation wide.

Being partisan I must mention that at the bottom of page 51 they mostly praise the conduct of the election in my old 'home' New Ireland so much so its Election Manager was sent in to trouble shoot Port Moresby when its manager was dismissed.

Overall the report is very readable, concise report of what happened on the ground even mentioning
some of the deaths that transpired. The failure is not the messenger but those in political power between elections who seem to have failed to ensure that the 100 paid officials of the PNG Electoral Commission continue to work efficiently after an election. I would hope that as soon as possible there would be a post-election briefing aided by the Commonwealth Report's findings not only at HQ but also in provincial offices too.

I think of the historic ideas, plans suggestions that now languish unfulfilled. One is the move to digital electoral rolls together with the decentralisation of that latter roll to all LLGs.
Ward Secretaries are on the spot and can be the agents for the 'hatch, match and dispatch' of the people within its area. There was a move to ensure that they must possess Grade 12 education qualifications and hopefully their role would attract such persons by improving their salaries and benefits. All part of what the late Ben Micah and his Commission promised would reform LLGs to be a vital part of PNG democracy but subsequently neutered by MPs jealous of allowing grass roots politicians and their citizens having a greater say in their lives.

At the MPs eventual peril as worldwide and in PNG there are moves by disgruntled dis-enfranchised people wanting grass roots participation in the political process. Thus has arisen calls for autonomy by quite a large number of provinces. An open, well conducted general election can mitigate the feeling of being mere pawns in the quinquennial invasion of rural back waters by the elite.

Not an educated report but some verses from 'Election Day' - Slim Dusty's take on Oz Elections!
well there's big mobs of rough stuff
and slingin' of bulldust
as it draws close to election day, mate
oh they're all really tryin'
and most of em's lyin'
to get us to vote for them, ‘ey mate

yeah those spruikers are tireless
that you hear on the wireless
with big mobs of nothin' to say, mate
but we'll vote for some smarty
that's leadin' some party
and hope that he does something, ‘ey mate

Slim- what do you reckon, ‘ey mate

Amazon Music Unlimited

Bernard Corden

Several notable omissions from this highly esteemed team include Eddie (he who must be) Obeid, Andrew Liveris, Roger Rogerson, Matt Bekier, Clive Palmer and Djoko Tjandra.

Philip Fitzpatrick

Baron Waqa granted overnight Nauruan citizenship to over a hundred Chinese to try to bolster his electoral prospects in the election that overthrew him.

He knows all about rigging elections.

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