The management of Papua New Guinea's flagship ExxonMobil liquefied natural gas (LNG) project has expressed concern over the risk of violence around the June elections.
PNG LNG Project managing director Peter Graham told the annual Australia-PNG business forum in Brisbane that the company had been preparing for potential election violence for a year now, Radio Australia reported today. He noted that security was being upgraded at project sites in the Highlands and provisions were being laid down, including food, fuel, and medical supplies.
Parliament officially closed yesterday (15 May) with elections now apparently on schedule for June. Graham identified the risk that the Highlands Highway, the main transport artery in the country, could be "cut off by some protest or other". Another speaker at the event, Jacob Luke, the managing director of Papua New Guinean transport company Mapai Transport, said that the country "literally stops" when the Highway is out of operation.
"There is simply no word to describe the sheer importance of that road," he said. Australia's Lowy Institute reported anecdotal evidence earlier this year suggesting that the number of firearms on display on the Highway had increased, raising the risk of roadblocks and banditry.
Significance: The risk of violence around the time of the elections is the result of a variety of factors. Given the extent of patronage politics in Papua New Guinea, many voters have direct personal financial interests in their preferred candidate's election. Electoral fraud is a significant problem and can inspire reprisals; the 2002 elections saw attacks on polling stations, for instance. Violence is made more serious by the influx of factory-made firearms into the country, particularly in the Highlands.
Since the last elections in 2007, mobile phones have also become far more widely used throughout the country and it is possible that faster communication will facilitate the escalation of violence. The PNG LNG project is particularly at risk because of its high profile in the country and because of the location of the project sites in the Highlands.
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