Electoral violence has broken out in many areas of the island nation of Papua New Guinea, causing deaths and displacing thousands. Government sources have confirmed that dozens of civilians have died due to electoral violence, along with reports of sexual assault, the displacement of nearly 3,000 people, and extensive property and infrastructure damage. The Highlands region of the country, especially in the Enga province, is experiencing the highest amount of violence, with many hospitals and schools being forced to close. Frustration regarding the poorly planned and managed election along with tensions between rival political groups and tribes are the main causes of the extreme violence. Since the elections are staggered, many candidates have already been decided, but the violence remains a serious issue for much of the country as elections continue.
Both the international community and national leaders in Papua New Guinea have denounced the increased electoral violence and are suggesting steps to be taken in order to ensure the safety of elections throughout the country moving forward. UN Resident Coordinator in Papua New Guinea Dirk Wagener called for the “immediate cessation” of electoral violence in Papua New Guinea and stated that, “The state of Papua New Guinea has a responsibility to uphold the rule of law and ensure the safety of all persons and property…This responsibility extends to facilitating safe, unimpeded, and sustained humanitarian access to those affected by this violence.” Sir Peter Ipatas, Governor of the Enga Province which has experienced the highest rates of violence in the country, urged for immediate action to be taken to ensure the safety of elections, stating that, “If we are not serious in addressing the issues we have now, in the next five years, you can lose a country.”
Citizens’ lack of confidence in the electoral process in Papua New Guinea has become a main factor driving the increased violence in the country. When confidence is lost in the ability for a government to conduct free and fair elections and corruption is suspected, democracy is seen as a failure, and many believe violence is the only way to ensure their favored candidate gains power. In order to successfully put an end to electoral violence in Papua New Guinea, faith in democracy must be restored. The first step to doing so is for the government to increase measures to ensure the safety of elections and of the people, such as providing safe polling locations and creating an unbiased governing body to ensure no ballots are stolen or coerced voting occurs. If the government is unable to do so on its own, it may become necessary that a neutral governing body such as the UN sends peacekeepers to oversee the implementation of completely free and fair elections.
Papua New Guinea has experienced high levels of electoral violence in the past, but elections have gotten more violent in recent years. Indeed, over two hundred people died during the course of the 2017 election, but officials predict more fatalities in this 2022 election. The country has not conducted a census in many years which has greatly affected the electoral rolls, contributing to the distrust of the electoral process that many have. Incumbent Prime Minister James Marape plans to deploy an extra five hundred security personnel to election sites in hopes to put an end to violence, ballot tampering, and ballot box theft.
The ability to conduct free and fair elections is an essential component to a democracy. The electoral violence that is occurring in Papua New Guinea prohibits the country’s ability to conduct free and fair elections and is thus causing significant harm to their democracy. It is integral that the government in Papua New Guinea and the international community continue to condemn any kind of electoral violence and provide solutions to ensure that every citizen is able to make their voice heard in a safe way.
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