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Leader denied vote in PNG poll chaos

Sir Mekere Morauta
The previous track record of prime ministers seeking re-election will not comfort PM Sir Mekere Morauta  

PORT MORESBY, Papua New Guinea -- The voting process in Papua New Guinea's general election was in such disarray Monday that even the Prime Minister had been denied a vote.

An angry Prime Minister Sir Mekere Morauta described the incident as a major "bungle," and alleged that supporters of some candidates had stolen the ballot papers.

Morauta was to have been one of the first to vote in the one day of polling in Port Moresby, a city of 145,000 people.

But by midday many of the booths still had not been opened, including at the prime minister's chosen site -- a local primary school.

"This is more than a bungle. We are hearing some stories ... that supporters of some open and regional candidates are being seen distributing ballot papers," Morauta said.

"Someone should be held up and hung for this," Associated Press quoted the leader as saying.

It was widely hoped the seventh election since gaining independence from Australia in 1975 would bring some stability to the struggling Pacific nation.

The polling process will take two weeks to complete, due largely to the country's geography -- some 5 million people are spread over an area roughly the size of California that features towering mountains, active volcanoes and large tracts of pristine rain forest.

The makeup of the 109-seat Parliament will not be known until official results are released July 15.

Almost 3,000 candidates from 43 political parties and including hundreds of independents will contest the election in this nation north of Australia. Many seats have more than 40 candidates and one has 63.

Up to 830 languages are spoken by the country's tribes and some remote communities have been virtually untouched by modern life.

Reformist Prime Minister Sir Mekere Morauta hopes to be returned to office, where he has tried for three years to clamp down on corruption and economic mismanagement in order to secure foreign aid for his impoverished nation.

Unpredictable system

But analysts say like all his predecessors, Morauta will likely fall victim to the political system's vagaries.

"It's impossible to predict who will win a seat ... but one thing I would put money on is that, as always, the one person who won't be prime minister after the election is the prime minister before the election," said Donald Denoon, a professor of Pacific Studies at the Australian National University.

At the last election, in 1997, Morauta's People's Democratic Movement won only 10 seats. The remaining seats were split between 12 other parties and 40 independents.

Ron May, a political scientist from the Australian National University, said Papua New Guinea's British-based political system "has never worked the way it was expected to." The nation inherited the system when it gained independence from Australia in 1975.

May said parties tend to be "more kinship cults that form around dominant personalities, few have any organizational discipline, candidates move from one party to another when it suits and parties move from one coalition to another when it suits."


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