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British Commonwealth to Investigate PNG Parliamentary Elections


The Commonwealth of former British colonies says it will investigate Papua New Guinea's volatile and heavily criticized national parliamentary elections. More than 20 people were killed during weeks of voting.

Commonwealth Secretary-General Don McKinnon has agreed to undertake a thorough investigation of elections in Papua New Guinea. The planned two weeks of polling in June had to be extended to a month because of problems getting ballots to remote areas and a surge of violence in the Southern Highlands. The Commonwealth probe will examine claims of widespread electoral sabotage and major irregularities in voting registration.

Papua New Guinea's prime minister, Mekere Morauta, requested the Commonwealth investigation, which will begin once a new government is formed.

It is not yet clear who will head the new government. So far, only 70 of the 109 parliamentary seats have been decided. But based on those results, Prime Minister Morauta's party trails the National Alliance, led by Michael Somare, Papua New Guinea's first leader after independence from Australia in 1975.

Known simply as "The Chief," Mr. Somare said he is confident. "I'm quite confident that as the results come out, we are quite confident of forming the next government," he said. "I'm quite confident at the end of counting, the way it's going, we'll have the largest party."

Final results will have to wait until the Supreme Court weighs in. Mr. Somare has challenged the constitutionality of extending the voting period. He wants any ballots cast after the first two weeks to be invalidated. The court is expected to rule early next week.

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