Violence disrupts election in Papua New Guinea’s Enga province

Harlyne Joku
Port Moresby
Violence disrupts election in Papua New Guinea’s Enga province A gunman is seen in this screen grab of video recorded during election violence this week in Wabag, the capital of Papua New Guinea’s Enga Province.
WhatsApp/PNG Think Tank

An election in Papua New Guinea’s volatile Enga province was engulfed in violence this week as a candidate’s armed supporters clashed with security forces guarding a counting center, police said. 

The highland province’s police commander, George Kakas, said on Friday that clashes over several days resulted in one death and three injuries, including a soldier who was shot. Voting for the Lagaip district byelection was peaceful, but violence started after the ballots were transported to the provincial capital Wabag.

“One group wanted the counting to be conducted in another province, in Goroka [town] in the Eastern Highlands, while the other wanted the counting to remain in Wabag,” Kakas told BenarNews.

“When the decision was made for counting to take place in Wabag, the rival party took to the streets in a violent protest.”

The attackers raided the village of Enga province’s governor and burned down several of his houses, according to Kakas. He said police and soldiers dispersed the group, but they retaliated by attacking security forces at the counting center at a Wabag school.

Video of the clashes circulating online shows a gunman firing his weapon down a Wabag street as he crouches in a drain. Men with machetes can also be seen running across a street in an apparent attempt to get near a roadblock established by security forces. 

Kakas said the footage showed some of the violence. A business sign in the video also confirmed that the location was Wabag. 

In August, Enga province was rocked by unrest that police said was fueled by the use of hired gunmen by highlands power brokers. A video of naked and mutilated corpses being dragged behind a utility vehicle on a highway in Enga circulated widely online in Papua New Guinea and, according to police, depicted the aftermath of some of the August clashes.

police assn.jpg
Papua New Guinea Police Association’s national president, Lowa Tambune, reacts during a Nov. 15, 2023 press conference in Port Moresby on election violence in Wabag. [Harlyne Joku/BenarNews]

A senior electoral officer in Wabag said that vote counting, which started on Monday, was suspended after the resignation of the official overseeing the count. A new returning officer was appointed on Friday and the counting will resume on Saturday.

The senior electoral officer, who did not want to be named because of the volatile situation in Wabag, said he expected the vote count to be completed at the weekend. 

Papua New Guinea, with more than nine million people, is the largest Pacific island country and endowed with significant mineral and other resources, but has struggled to develop economically because of corruption, poor infrastructure, frequent tribal violence and a deep level of inequality for women.

In July last year, the United Nations condemned the reported deaths of dozens of people in the country’s highlands during a chaotic two-week voting period for national elections.

The U.N. said allegations of ballot tampering and ballot box theft, as well as poor organization, planning, and underlying clan rivalries, fueled instability during the election.

The Papua New Guinea Police Association’s national president, Lowa Tambune, condemned the election violence in Enga and said it was a threat to national security.

“This is not the time to take up arms and start a war, either with your political rivals or the state, thereby interrupting the democratic process,” he said at a press conference on Wednesday.

“The district, the province and the entire country’s progress cannot be allowed to be held to ransom by a few ethnic minorities,” he said. 


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