Poll dispute ignites gunfight, several injured

Several more people have been injured in gunfighting related to the incomplete election in Papua New Guinea’s Southern Highlands regional seat.

A result in the last remaining seat to be declared in PNG’s general election had been delayed because of a dispute over ballot boxes, which held up the counting of votes and elimination of candidates on preferences.

Since the election process began in June, the Highlands province had seen several bouts of deadly fighting between supporters of rival candidates.

The violence forced the count process to be moved to neighbouring Western Highlands province.

A court last week ruled that 84 disputed ballot boxes should be included in the regional seat’s vote count.

However, our correspondent Melvin Levongo said supporters of some candidates prevented security forces from transferring the boxes from Southern’s capital Mendi to Mt Hagen for counting.

“When they were trying to escort the boxes, supporters of candidates started exchanging shots and trying to prevent the police from escorting the boxes down. As a result of that, police retaliated and they fired shots at each other. It was for some hours,” he said.

Melvin Levongo said seven people were injured trying to flee from the gunfire exchange.

The latest violence came after a peaceful protest in Mendi last week, where local people called on electoral authorities to ensure a conclusion to the election.

According to Melvin Levongo, the local community was fed up with the delays in the election and the ongoing fighting, which had not been restricted to the provincial capital.

It is understood as many as nine people have died because of election-related violence in Southern Highlands province since June.

Mendi remained in lockdown.

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