10 Aug 2012

PNG election riddled with delays and fraud

10:41 am on 10 August 2012

Almost seven weeks after polling began in Papua New Guinea, the final seat has been declared in a general election that was riddled with delays, fraud, and voting problems.

Peter O'Neill is the winner after a surprise deal with his political rival Sir Michael Somare, ending a feud between the two which had left the country with two prime ministers for much of last year.

A PNG voter

A PNG voter Photo: RNZ

Election observers from the Commonwealth and US State Department say PNG's election has many flaws including ballot box fraud and widespread errors in the electoral roll.

The practice of vote-buying has also been a major problem but something voters down at the Port Moresby markets consider normal.

Timon Waribi comes from the Hela province, one of the resource-rich Highlands provinces awash with money around elections.

He says that to seriously contest, candidates must buy votes, and he sold his own vote.

"If I want to be a candidate, I must have millions or I can't win the contest.," he says.

A first-preference vote cost 100 kina, he suggested.

But not everyone's vote is for sale.

Port Moresby resident Shelley Nepa, believes the fight against corruption starts with the individual.

"I want change, but I cannot trust the politicians," she says.

Andrew Ladley from Victoria University's School of Government says PNG has come to expect the blatant horse-trading among MPs well before the count is over, and the coalition government was formed

"There's nothing that compares with PNG anywhere," he says. "This process in the absence of strong political parties is really 'market rules'.

"Because of the amount of money now in the economy, it's going to be much harder to avoid huge amounts of money being offered and made available in order to get MPs to join particular conglomerations".

In a surprise outcome to the poll, Mr O'Neill and Sir Michael, who had both claimed to be PNG's rightful Prime Minister before the election, are now in an unlikely alliance.

Mr O'Neill is the head of the new coalition government, and Sir Michael has a minor role.

More on this can be heard on Insight on Sunday.