Elections in Highlands Region may have not been just: Bishops

National Elections in the Highlands Region, in many cases, have not been free, fair and just.

 This was the view shared by the bishops and Diocesan Secretaries of the four Highlands Dioceses in their Annual Regional Secretaries Meeting, held on 20th-22nd March.

“Voters in the Highlands region of Papua New Guinea know this very well,” they said.

“The people of the region have suffered and many have been routinely denied services. A minority have benefited while the common people struggle to make ends meet. 

“Nevertheless, let us look toward the future with hope. Let us not vote for selfish gain but for the common good, for human dignity and the good of all people of the Highlands region.”

The meeting discussed the following points which the people of the Highlands region should consider while preparing to approach the polling booths.

 1.     The National Government’s budget cut in Health Services has affected functions of the Church Health Services and consequently puts unnecessary stress on health administrators on how best to pay health workers, ancillary staff and to effectively manage health services in the dioceses. The church health secretaries are not sure of what will happen in the months leading to the election and how they will be able to respond to the usual spike in election related injuries and diseases.

2.     The National Government’s cut in Education also threatens our democratic processes. Actual State assistance for schools continues to decrease. TFF funds given to schools continue to decrease and it appears that a significant percentage of TFF monies are being diverted to serve political purposes, not educational priorities. A diminished educational system can spell disaster for a democracy.

3.     Eligible voters in the communities, especially in the highlands, seem unaware of or fatalistic about the social and economic trends in the region and the country as a whole. This year our Caritas Election awareness programs received no financial support from the State. We feel that relevant election awareness is not reaching the people. Ignorance about elections and the power of a vote is a failure to exercise the fundamental human right to choose and determine the future of this country. A free, fair and just election is impossible when people do not know their rights and duties.  

4.     Youth are the most vulnerable group of people who will be greatly affected during this 2017 national election. Young eligible voters who are not adequately educated on their right to vote, understanding the power and the process of voting, and the responsibility to choose good leaders, are vulnerable to exploitation. Young people’s ignorance can be used for political purposes.

5.     Bribery, vote buying, mobilising opportunists to control polling areas/boxes/ballot papers, intimidation, inflicting fear or threat to obtain votes, using alcohol, sex, drugs and money as part of campaigning is unjustifiable and contrary to human dignity. The rights of children, women, the aged, the disabled and the silent rural majority must not be undermined. Every person must be given a fair chance to determine their future through the fair exercise of their right to vote.

6.     We have seen discrepancies in the polling process where ballot boxes and papers have been hijacked for the purpose of unauthorised voting, multiple voting by one person, polling officials and security personnel compromised. This is an offense to the human dignity of persons created in the image and likeness of God.

7.     We have seen the counting process to be undisciplined and open to unscrupulous behaviour from counting officials, security personnel of interest groups, even with contesting candidates influencing the counting and declaration process. This corrupts the democratic process. 

The clergymen are therefore appealing to all people of good will: Do not buy or sell votes.

“Do not use or give in to threats or intimidation. Do not take part in any election related activity that you know is illegal or immoral.

Do not make church property, including church agency school land, available for campaigning. Do not use your position for political purposes. In fact, if you occupy a position as a church leader, a teacher, or public servant, you should have resigned by now if you intend to be active in the campaign.

“Let us courageously strive to make this year’s national elections truly free, fair and just.”

Press release