Polling has officially begun in Papua New Guinea as the Commonwealth keeps a close eye on electoral procedures to prevent escalation of violence.
Polling stations were due to open at 8am (11pm UK), with gender-specific voting arrangements, but Commonwealth Observers witnessed delays in various locations, reportedly due to logistical reasons.
In many areas men and women voters formed separate queues although priority was given to the elderly, pregnant women, and disabled people.
Papua New Guinea’s voting population of more than 5.5 million is served by 10,500 polling stations. Voting is scheduled to be open until 6pm (9am UK) from Monday to Friday for three weeks to give everyone a chance to vote.
Commonwealth Observers are being deployed across the country’s four regions to supervise the whole polling process, as past elections have already been met with mounting difficulties – especially after the issuing of writs has been postponed following the death of Deputy Prime Minister Sam Basil on 11 May.
“We as a group are encouraged by the largely peaceful conduct of the electoral process thus far,” said Chairperson of the Commonwealth Observer Group, former President of Nauru HE Baron Waqa.
“We hope that the people of Papua New Guinea will continue in this trajectory until the polls close on 22 July, and even beyond.
“We are still in the process of observing and will reflect our key findings and recommendations in our final report.
“We continue to appeal to all stakeholders and citizens to maintain the calm and peace throughout the whole process and observe all COVID-19 safety protocols as stated in our arrival statements.”
The leading contenders to lead the new Government are current Prime Minister James Marape and his predecessor who resigned in 2019, Peter O’Neill.
Papua New Guinea uses the Limited Preferential Voting (LPV) system, meaning voters rank their top three candidates from first to third choice on the ballot. A candidate must have the support of an absolute majority of the electorate, or 50 per cent plus one to win.
Voters will directly elect 118 Members of Parliament (MPs) to serve in the National Parliament for a five-year term.
Of the 118 MPs, 96 will represent districts (also known as open electorates) and 22 will represent provinces, and one each from the National Capital District and the Autonomous Region of Bougainville.