Polling in the Lae Open electorate has ended with widespread reports of electoral roll inaccuracies, inadequate ballot papers and polling disruptions by angry voters. The incidences in multiple locations happened as an international observer group travelled between polling stations in Papua New Guinea’s industrial city.
At Omili Primary School, voting was suspended for over an hour after police fired shots to disperse a crowd of rowdy voters. Earlier, a Nawae Block community leader, Nime Dua, led a group that threatened to force the suspension of polling because of shortage of ballot papers.
“In previous elections the ballot papers brought here average between 3000 and 3500,” he said. “We want them to explain why we are being given only 1500 ballot papers.”
The apparent shortage of ballot papers stems from the flawed 2017 electoral roll does not include eligible voters who turned 18 after 2012 elections.
At a polling station at the University of Technology students burnt 1100 ballot papers in protest.
“We fought against corruption last year,” a student leader said. “This is corruption!”
Tensions escalated in West Taraka as voters turned against each other. Police were called in to quell the violence.
As voters questioned the validity of the electoral roll at a polling station in the centre of town, Electoral Commissioner, Patilias Gamato, stepped off a Port Moresby Flight to Lae and headed straight for the Ward Two council office a few kilometers away where he was able to find his name on the electoral role and cast his vote.
In Chinatown, many voters had come as early as 4am to vote. But by 8.30am, many voters were left frustrated.
Eng Anuma voted in 2012. This morning she that found that her name was not on the 2017 electoral roll. Names of her family members were also missing.
“What am I going to do? I don’t know. I have a right to vote!”
Delvin Balsen planned to vote in this election. The 31-year-old Lae resident is one of many young voters who will miss out on the election process.
“I don’t feel like a Papua New Guinean Citizen. I am angry about the whole thing.”
Minutes after polling began in Chinatown, scrutineers called for a suspension of polling and demanded to know which electoral roll would be used. Some voters who found their names on the 2012 rolls could not find theirs in the 2017 rolls. While polling resumed, the electoral roll problems remained unresolved for the rest of the day.