James Marape, the prime minister of Papua New Guinea, has acknowledged that, following a general election plagued by violence and allegations of corruption, an extension of the deadline for the return of election results may face judicial hurdles.
The election in the Pacific island nation ended on July 22. Despite significant police attempts to quell rioting, reports of scores of deaths, thousands of forced home evacuations, and claims of ballot manipulation marred the poll.
In the wake of the turmoil, the government on Friday announced an extension to the return of writs – a procedural step to declare successful candidates – so vote counting could continue in electorates where results remained unclear.
The original July 29 date for the return of writs was initially pushed out to August 12, according to local media, before being revised to August 5.
Marape told ABC television the decision to postpone could be challenged in court, but defended the move saying there were “extraordinary circumstances” leading up to it.
“Someone can go to the courts to challenge, but we pretty much, based on advice received, we feel that there is sufficient power the (Papua New Guinea) Electoral Commission has to make these calls, and he has made these calls,” he said in comments broadcast on Saturday.
Of the 118 seats that went to the polls, just 35 have so far been declared, according to vote tracking site One Papua New Guinea.
The two main contenders for prime minister, in the 10th election since independence, are incumbent Marape of the Pangu Party, and former prime minister Peter O’Neill of the People’s National Congress Party.
Media have reported there have been roughly 50 election-related deaths this year, down from 204 deaths documented by an Australian National University observer group around the 2017 vote.
PNG’s general election is among the world’s most challenging due to factors including difficult terrain, extreme weather, poor transport infrastructure and linguistic and cultural diversity.
The resource-rich but largely undeveloped country of almost 9 million has become a focus of attention for both China, its biggest buyer of natural gas, and neighbouring Australia, its largest aid provider.