Papua New Guinea, which has vast natural resources but millions of people living in poverty, will hold parliamentary elections on Monday under tight security.
About 10,000 members of the security forces were mobilized to ensure ballot security on the Pacific island, which has long been marked by election-related corruption and killings.
Australia, a former colonial power that has been independent for nearly fifty years, sent more than 130 soldiers along with air assets to participate in the operation to secure this lengthy election process with many challenges.
During the election campaign in this country of nine million people, Prime Minister James Marab called for people to “be free to vote safely”.
But electoral contests can quickly turn bloody, especially in remote and mountainous areas. The Australian National University listed more than 200 election-related deaths and large-scale “gross irregularities” in the 2017 referendum.
According to Papua Police, fifteen deaths have been recorded so far this year.
A candidate in the mountainous region of Enga has been charged with shooting a supporter of a political opponent on June 26, police told local media.
Mr. In his final campaign message, Marabe acknowledged the persistence of “hidden corruption in all sectors of the public service” and the underdevelopment of the island despite its abundant natural resources.
“I recognize that there is still much more for our country,” said the Prime Minister and Stakeholder Party leader.
He faces a strong opponent in the person of his predecessor Peter O’Neill, who resigned under pressure three years ago.
Mr O’Neill of the National People’s Congress, who was in power from 2011 to 2019, has pledged to attract private investment and revive industrial exploitation of the country’s resources.
Papua New Guinea is rich in gas, oil, gold and copper reserves and has forestry and agricultural production.
– RESULTS IN AUGUST –
The referendum could last up to eighteen days and the outcome should not be clearly defined before August.
Analysts expect the new leader to put together a coalition government in the 118-seat parliament, none of which has been held by a woman since 2017.
This year, out of approximately 3,500 candidates, 142 are women.
“Elections are always messy and confusing. They can be very violent,” noted Jessica Collins, a Pacific expert at the Lowy Institute, an Australian think tank.
Analysts also note that voters — in a multi-ethnic country that speaks more than 800 dialects — are less interested in national issues than in the material benefits candidates can bring to their local communities.
Further complicating the process, electoral rolls are not updated, says Australian National University Pacific expert Henry Ivaracher. “So, the integrity of this election is already in question.”
The government formed by this election will also have to face significant challenges.
According to a 2020 World Bank report, nearly 40% of the population lives below the international poverty line.
The Asian Development Bank estimated that the country experienced a “weak recovery” in 2021 after being devastated by the Covid-19 pandemic. Only 3% of the population has a complete vaccination schedule.
Promising to transform Papua into a “rich black Christian nation”, Mr Marabe told voters his government had begun to return their country’s wealth to the people.
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