Edited extracts from the TIPNG Domestic Election Observation Report 2022 compiled by Transparency International PNG (TIPNG). The full report can be downloaded here
PORT MORESBY - The accumulated failings in the preparation, conduct, delivery and conclusion of the 2022 national general election resulted in significant issues impacting the quality of the elections.
Many eligible voters could not freely, fairly or safely vote, and consequently their views were not taken into consideration in the formation of the 11th national parliament.
TIPNG observers witnessed a number of irregular practices.
There were frequent instances of roll inaccuracy, lack of enforcement against election offences, non-compliance with constitutional requirements, disruptions in the conduct of counting, confusion on the declaration of seats and widespread election-related violence.
These practices violate electoral laws and undermine democracy and the rule of law.
Notably, the use of other voter’s names is a recurring issue. This enables further illegal practices like underage voting and double voting.
As a result, genuine voters miss out and are denied their right to vote.
Timely and accurate updating, monitoring and verifying of the electoral roll is crucial to the successful conduct of the elections.
The electoral roll should be supported by the conduct of a national census every 10 years.
The last national census was conducted in 2011, and the 2021 census was deferred to 2024.
This worsened the inaccuracies of the roll.
Irregular voting practices continued to be observed, including block voting, multiple voting, double voting and intimidation.
Another highly concerning trend was the delay in completion of elections in some electorates.
The first sitting of the 11th parliament to elect the prime minister proceeded while several seats were yet to be declared.
Since 2002, the extensive shortcomings of the electoral process have mainly been enabled by the broader political environment, in particular a culture of impunity in relation to electoral offences.
Social and governance issues also prevail, and issues within the PNG Electoral Commission, while peculiar to that institution, are symptomatic of a larger malaise.
Lack of national political leadership in supporting the constitutional processes for elections worsened poor electoral conduct in 2022.
Political leaders at the national level were not vocal on the need for electoral laws to be enforced either in election administration or polling place management.
The PNGEC did not have the political support to prioritise constitutional and legal requirements.
Print, broadcast and social media reported widespread electoral irregularities, non-impartiality of officials, legality of those facing court to contest, and constitutionality of the deferral of return of writs.
Adherence to the rule of law has also been weakened due to vested political interests
A notable instance of this pressure was legal challenges by politicians following alleged fraudulent gazettes of appointments of returning officers.
Another example of political and legal pressure on the conduct of elections was the questionable declarations of seats following property destruction.
The incident of the burning of ballot boxes in Markham and Kabwum District in Morobe Province gave rise to questions of constitutionality when it was alleged that the number of ballot papers did not correspond to the total voting population.
Despite the concern raised by media and other concerned bodies, the Electoral Commission citing ‘special circumstances’ declared Koni Iguan as member-elect for the Markham Open seat and Patrick Basa as member-elect for Kabwum Open seat.
A more egregious example of the deterioration in constitutional democratic norms was the declaration of Southern Highlands Regional Seat.
It was reported that candidate William Powi, who allegedly was not leading at the time counting was disrupted by violence, was declared as the winning candidate, raising the question of the integrity of the election's outcome.
This appeared to be a unilateral decision by the Electoral Commission, again citing special circumstances, with no public disclosure as to the electoral data that supported the declaration.
However, media coverage during the election was limited. For instance, counting venues across the country did not allow the media to enter with phones and cameras to record proceedings.
This was just one facet of the information bottleneck experienced by journalists during the elections.
These conditions only served to weaken the media’s ability to act as a buffer between the PNGEC and political actors.