|Home > South Pacific & Oceania >> Papua New Guinea|
Protest in PNG draws thousands calling for polls
Agence France Presse - April 10, 2012
At least 4,000 students, union members and church members, some carrying placards saying "Give me back my right to vote", converged on a central stadium to vent their anger at Prime Minister Peter O'Neill, reports said.
Papua New Guinea's parliament voted on Thursday to postpone national polls for six months, sparking public outrage, but O'Neill later backtracked, saying he wanted the elections held in June as planned.
With protesters shouting "Rausim, rausim", which means "chase him out", O'Neill assured the crowd his government would not meddle in the electoral process in the Pacific island nation of seven million people.
"Parliament will not interfere with the electoral commissioner," he told the crowd, Australian Associated Press reported.
Electoral commissioner Andrew Trawen had earlier said that postponing the elections, which he described as "regarded as the most crucial in the history of PNG," had constitutional implications.
He said he had delayed the issue of writs for the elections by three weeks, from April 27 to May 18, because some more time was needed to properly prepare and finalise all the electoral rolls in the mountainous country.
But he said the two weeks of polling would go ahead from June 23 as planned, despite concerns about the completeness of some rolls, particularly from the volatile Highlands region.
"This decision is not a compromise or a give-in to cabinet," Trawen said in a statement. "The three weeks delay will give the voters from the Highlands equal or same opportunity like that given to voters (elsewhere)... to view and object to the preliminary rolls so that a credible roll is produced for the Highlands."
O'Neill assured the nation the elections, seen as critical as impoverished PNG stands to benefit from a massive $15 billion LNG gas pipeline project, would go ahead as planned. "I have said all along that the general election must take place as scheduled," he said in a statement.
O'Neill took power in a parliamentary vote in August while long-serving leader Michael Somare, now 76, was recovering from illness in Singapore. The elections will be the first chance to ratify his leadership, which is disputed by Somare, with the people.