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PNG votes in heavily guarded elections

#PNG #votes #heavily #guarded #elections

Voters headed to the polls Monday for closely guarded elections in Papua New Guinea, where millions live in poverty despite vast natural and energy wealth.

About 10,000 police, army and correctional service personnel have been mobilized to vote in the Pacific island nation, which has a history of corruption and election-related killings.

Australia dispatched 130 soldiers with transport planes to secure the lengthy voting process in the rugged, densely forested country of nine million people.

“We want transparency, we want accountability and above all we want a safe, fair and secure electoral cycle,” Prime Minister James Marape said after casting his ballot on the first day of the election.

Electoral rivalries can quickly lead to bloodshed in Papua New Guinea, particularly in the remote and mountainous highland provinces.

During the last vote in 2017, observers from the Australian National University documented more than 200 election-related killings and widespread “serious irregularities”.

According to the Papua New Guinea police, 15 election-related deaths have already been registered this year.

In the highland province of Enga, a candidate was accused of shooting dead and shooting dead a supporter of a political rival on June 26, police told local media.

Marape acknowledged in a message at the end of the campaign that there was still “rampant corruption in all layers of the public service”.

The prime minister, who has vowed to make Papua New Guinea the “richest black Christian nation,” said there has been a lack of development despite the country’s “God-given” resources.

“I admit that there is much more work to be done for our country,” said Marape, who heads the Pangu party.

He faces a tough challenge from his predecessor Peter O’Neill, who resigned three years ago under pressure over endemic corruption and an alleged failure to spread mining wealth among the people.

O’Neill of the People’s National Congress Party has promised to attract private investment and revitalize the extractive industries.

The country has large reserves of gas, oil, gold and copper and is an exporter of forest and agricultural products.

– ‘Very violent’ –

“There are worrying signs in our country that the election was very poorly prepared and that interference appears to be widespread,” O’Neill said.

“I hope that the good officers of our security forces at all levels can ensure that we have free, fair and safe elections.”

Voting is expected to take up to 18 days and a result is not expected before August.

Analysts say the new leader will have to cobble together a coalition government in the male-dominated 118-seat parliament, which has had no female members since the last election in 2017.

“Elections are always messy and chaotic and can get very violent,” said Jessica Collins, a Pacific researcher at the independent think tank Lowy Institute in Sydney.

In an ethnically diverse country with more than 800 languages, voters care less about national issues and more about the material benefits candidates can bring to local communities, analysts said.

“People want to know what their candidate is going to do for them and for the village: the real hard currency stuff,” Collins said.

What complicates the process is that the electoral roll is not up to date, said Pacific analyst Henry Ivarature of the Australian National University.

“So the whole integrity of this election is already in question,” he said.

The government that emerges from the elections will face major challenges.

According to a 2020 World Bank report, almost 40 percent of the population lives below the international poverty line.

The resource- and agriculture-dependent economy has seen a “feelly recovery” over the past year, the Asian Development Bank said, after being hit by the Covid-19 pandemic, with only about three percent of the total population fully vaccinated.

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