Sir Mekere Morauta was declared the winner in the tally room in front of officials, senior police and the media. (ABC News: Eric Tlozek)
The final day of Papua New Guinea’s election counting saw buildings burned, an alleged kidnapping attempt and a confusing declaration of two winners for one seat.
Election authorities in the capital Port Moresby were left bewildered after a returning officer went missing, then privately declared the third-placed candidate as the winner of a seat instead of a former prime minister who opposes the current Government.
The seat was won that morning by the former prime minister Sir Mekere Morauta — a strident critic of sitting Prime Minister Peter O’Neill and key player in the moves to unseat him this election.
Mr Morauta was declared the winner in the tally room in front of officials, senior police and the media, but the returning officer for his seat of Port Moresby Northwest, Moka Havara, went missing without signing the writ.
His superiors were told he was in hospital.
But PNG broadcaster EMTV filmed Mr Havara and the third-placed candidate, pastor Joseph Tonde, in a room at the luxury Airways Hotel, where Mr Havara said he had decided to declare the seat for Mr Tonde.
“I feel that because the third candidate’s paper was given as the winning candidate, I had to declare that third one as the winning candidate for Moresby Northwest,” he said in the video.
Mr Tonde then displayed a signed election writ.
“This one is genuine,” he said.
“This is the genuine returning officer for the Port Moresby Northwest electorate and this writ is genuine.
“The other one they signed at the other site, I don’t think that’s genuine.”
The election manager for the National Capital District (NCD), Alwyn Jimmy, said the returning officer’s declaration of Mr Tonde was not legal.
“I’d like to tell the people of NCD that the declaration that was made in Rita Flynn [the tally room] is the correct one and the legal one and we must accept the person that has been declared [Sir Mekere],” he said.
Mr Jimmy said the returning officer had claimed to be sick, so he had been formally replaced.
Supporters of Sir Mekere Morauta outside the tally room celebrate his declaration as MP-elect for the seat of Moresby Northwest. (ABC News: Eric Tlozek)
‘I’m just speechless’: Morauta
Mr Morauta has written to the Electoral Commissioner and the Police Commissioner and said he would also be taking the matter to court, if his writ was not returned to the Governor-General and he was not named as the MP.
“It’s just impossible that these things are happening, I’m just speechless,” he said.
“This is an example of a very desperate Government managing the process in ways that are just totally illegal.”
Similar counting irregularities in the highlands city of Mt Hagen sparked violent protests that have gone for several days, and led to the burning of buildings on July 27.
The city’s airport has been closed, residents were warned roads were blocked and there were reports of gunfire.
The elections are entering a final phase were new MPs divide into “camps” and negotiate coalition agreements in an attempt to form government.
Even that process turned violent when MPs from the Opposition National Alliance party clashed with police and members of the governing People’s National Congress (PNC) party at the Port Moresby airport.
National Alliance members alleged police and a former PNC member tried to kidnap a new MP at gunpoint and take him to the PNC camp in the regional town of Alotau.
There is still uncertainty about the actual date for a parliamentary vote on the formation of government, and will depend on whether the Electoral Commissioner returns the election writs to the Governor-General as scheduled on July 28.