13 Jul 2017

Coalition lobby groups set up camp in PNG

3:50 pm on 13 July 2017

Leading players in Papua New Guinea's fluid political landscape are setting up camps in the hope of forming the next government.

This comes as PNG's lengthy national election is now in the vote counting stage following a chaotic polling period dominated by flaws in the electoral roll and distribution of ballot boxes.

Election campaign poster for Papua New Guinea's People's National Congress Party, led by Peter O'Neill.

Election campaign poster for Papua New Guinea's People's National Congress Party, led by Peter O'Neill. Photo: RNZ / Johnny Blades

Camp time

It's expected that no single party will win enough of parliament's 111 seats to be able to rule alone, meaning a coalition government will again be the order of the day.

Having already secured the first two results declared, the People's National Congress party of prime minister Peter O'Neill is outwardly confident of heading the next government.

Even as counting is yet to start in many electorates, the PNC has set up camp in sunny Alotau where its previous camps have been based, inviting MPs-elect and other contenders to come and discuss joining a coalition.

"The first five years of our government were only just the beginning. We have changed the nation for the better, and we will continue to drive growth and development," said Mr O'Neill.

But the opposition's Pangu Pati, led by Bulolo MP Sam Basil, has also set up a camp in Goroka, where various opponents of the PNC are trying to form a new government.

Along with the National Alliance, Pangu's early vote counting results are shaping strongly and it could be around these two parties that an alternative government is based, with deep opposition to the prime minister a galvanising factor.

Papua New Guinea MP Sam Basil.

Papua New Guinea MP Sam Basil. Photo: Supplied

Even though the National Alliance was a central part of the coalition government of the past five years, its leader Patrick Pruiatch recently distanced his party from the PNC, saying it wanted to form a government without Peter O'Neill.

"I think it's a very brave move he's made - a little bit too late, but as I've said before we are willing to work with Patrick Pruaitch, National Alliance," Mr Basil said, adding that Pangu would not support any government with Mr O'Neill.

"I'm happy that the National Alliance have made their decision to move out... and we will work closely with them, we will work closely with the Triumph Heritage Empowerment Party, the People's Progress Party, the PNG National Party, New Generation Party, People's Movement for Change."

Mr Basil has appealed to incoming independent MPs not to join a coalition based on financial inducements.

He alleged that a cashed-up PNC would be using money skimmed from a series of inflated public contracts over recent years to lure newly-elected independent candidates.

"My message to the independent candidates and people from every electorate, they must understand that if they vote an independent candidate into parliament, that independent candidate represents them," said Mr Basil.

"That (successful) independent candidate must understand why he was chosen by the people to represent them. And he or she must not sell the voters' rights to a political party that voters do not want to come back into power."

Polling in Morobe district during the 2017 national election in Papua New Guinea.

Polling in Morobe district during the 2017 national election in Papua New Guinea. Photo: RNZ / Johnny Blades

Mixed early results for government ministers

As vote counting advances in various electorates, at least two incumbent government ministers look set for defeat.

The Mining Minister Byron Chan, of the People's Progress Party, is trailing the National Alliance Party president Walter Schnaubelt by a significant margin as counting for the Namatani seat in New Ireland province nears completion.

It's expected Mr Schnaubelt will pick up enough preference votes to defeat Mr Chan whose father, Sir Julius Chan, is also under pressure to retain the New Ireland regional seat.

As well, the People's Progress Party leader Ben Micah is struggling to retain his Kavieng open seat.

Meanwhile, the Health Minister, Michael Malabag of the ruling People's National Progress Party, has amost certainly lost the Moresby Northwest seat.

That electorate is shaping as a race between two independent candidates, Lohia Boe Samuel and the former prime minster Sir Mekere Morauta.

People's National Congress members Peter O'Neill, James Marape and William Powi, the incumbent MPs for Ialibu-Pangia, Tari-Pori and the Southern Highlands regional seat respectively.

People's National Congress members Peter O'Neill, James Marape and William Powi, the incumbent MPs for Ialibu-Pangia, Tari-Pori and the Southern Highlands regional seat respectively. Photo: PNG PM Media Office

However, the People's National Congress party's prospects in lobbying for the next government have gained momentum after two of its government ministers emerged as victors in the first two election results declared.

In Tari-Pori, the Finance Minister James Marape retained his seat in the first results declared, and in Moresby South the Sports Minister Justin Tkatchenko has been relected.

Having won emphatically on first preferences, Mr Tkatchenko had a message for his supporters and for his critics.

"I also praise my people of Moresby South for seeing through the rubbish and the lies that were put on social media and put out by other candidates as well. I thank them for ensuring that the truth always prevails."

Meanwhile, Peter O'Neill is on track to win the vote count and be declared the winner in his Ialibu- Pangia electorate today.

However, a supreme court reference has been filed by one of his opponents in the electorate, Stanley Liria, who is seeking to have polling declared invalid since it was mainly held on a Sunday, which he said was against the law.

Jiwaka petition

Vote counting may have begun, but more signs of unfairness during polling have emerged with allegations of vote rigging in a Highlands province.

A group of 28 candidates in Jiwaka's North Waghi electorate have filed a petition with the Provincial Election Steering Committee disputing the fairness of polling at a polling place.

The candidates said they objected to the counting of six particular ballot boxes due to the manner in which polling was conducted at Kerowil Singirok Barracks on voting day last week.

They alleged unfairness around the polling, with a heavy presence of security forces creating an intimidating environment for many voters.

Candidates' scrutineers were also prevented from monitoring the process.

The local MP, incumbent Defence Minister Fabian Pok was not among those behind the petition.

Video footage has surfaced from this electorate which appears to show rampant mishandling of ballot papers at a polling place by polling officials and other men.

Some local commentators said what was seen in the video was a typical procedure of certain tribal groups voting in bulk according to their "house line".

It comes after earlier evidence that security forces were intimidating polling officials in at least one polling area of Jiwaka.

Papua New Guinea election polling officers being made to do push-ups by security forces in Banz, Jiwaka province.

Papua New Guinea election polling officers being made to do push-ups by security forces in Banz, Jiwaka province. Photo: Jack Avai

Meanwhile, the Electoral Commission has condemned the assault of international election observers by security forces at a counting venue in Port Moresby.

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