Violence-marred elections conclude in Papua New Guinea
Sydney, Australia, Jul 22 (EFE).- General elections in Papua New Guinea were wrapping up on Friday after three weeks of polling marred by episodes of violence across the country.
The polls opened on July 4 to elect members for the 118-seat parliament.
Enga province, in the highlands of northern PNG, has been the epicenter of electoral violence following the killing of dozens of people during the elections due to tribal clashes and friction stemming from political rivalries, according to local media reports.
The theft and torching of ballot boxes by voters frustrated by results or the counting of ballots have also been reported in this and other provinces.
On Friday the United Nations’ acting resident coordinator in PNG called for an immediate cessation of violence.
Dirk Wagener said in a statement he was “deeply concerned over allegations of the brutal killing of dozens of civilians, reports of heinous sexual violence against women, including at least eight girls, and estimates of several thousand people, mostly women and children, displaced.”
He called for a “swift investigation of alleged crimes and the prosecution of alleged perpetrators and instigators.”
Episodes of violence are common during elections in PNG, held over three weeks due to mobility issues between different parts of the country, which is rich in natural resources but where a large part of the population lives in poverty.
The government deployed thousands of police officers and troops during the elections in an attempt to prevent clashes which, in the 2017 election, resulted in 204 deaths.
The Pangu Party of current Prime Minister James Marape, and the People’s National Congress Party of his predecessor Peter O’Neill are favorites in the elections.
Among the 3,625 candidates seeking election for a five-year term are 167 women.
The country’s legislature has historically been dominated by men and does not reserve a minimum quota of seats for women in politics.
The results will be made public on July 29, while the first session of parliament is scheduled for Aug. 4, where the country’s next leader will be elected.
Elections in PNG, which gained independence from Australia in 1975, are of particular importance in the Pacific after the signing of a security pact between China and the Solomon Islands in April.
The agreement has given rise to concerns in Australia and the United States, as well as other countries, over China’s expansion in the strategic Pacific region. EFE