Journalism

Mendi, Southern Highlands Unrest after Legal Decision on Election Petition

After a long meeting, the Prime Minister Hon Peter Oneil and the National Security Council announced an SOE for the province.
K6 mill has been raised for the SOE.
The Defence Force companies based in the highlands, Lae and Madang have been mobilised with a large contingent already in Mendi.
Thomas Eluh returned as controller for SHP and SOE, advising the PM directly.
Incident as they happened.
# The National Court at Waigani accepted the historical declaration of Southern Highlands Governor Hon William Powi using the law on SECTION 175, Subsection (b) Special Circumstances.   This law based on Special Circumstance has never been used until this case. With the National Court declaration, it means candidates can now be declared ‘without elimination’.  The election petition was by Joseph Kobol, disputing William Powi’s declaration of 27th September 2017 as the Southern Highlands Governor. This declaration confused witnesses as  Judge Gibbs Salika DCJ first stated there were no ‘Special Circumstances’ however accepted the declaration of Hon William Powi as Governor based on this sub-section of law.
# Frustration with the decision escalates in Mendi with people who felt cheated by the decision as they don’t understand  ‘Special Circumstances’. There was a large crowd that had gathered in Mendi that day for the decision.
# The decision was announced at 3pm, at the same time PX A/C RPT flight scheduled ETA flight to Mendi at 12:30 was delayed and arrived at 3:30pm .
# Arriving passengers disembarked. And new passengers boarded the plane.  The pilots and the crew realised that people wanted to hijack the plane, so they advised everybody to leave the plane, they did so last.
# Police and Defence Force personal arrived and secured the civilians. Defence force soldiers reported they had received no orders to engage the protesters from the chain of command, so focused on securing civilians.
# Crown in Mendi was between 3000 – 10,000 people. There was a huge crowed that was in town to hear the national court decision.
· The crowd stoned the aircraft in the presence of police and defence force
· PX A/C burnt down
· PX office demolished
· Southwest hanger burnt down
· Southwest office demolished
· National Court house burnt down
· District Court house burnt down
· DPI office burnt down
· Commerce building burnt down
· William Powi (incumbent Governor) house built down
. Another house burnt down (owner not known).
# The Defence evacuated civilians, with a small unit remaining in SHP to protect Government properties that had civilians such as teachers houses and nursing quarters.
Police instructed not to engage the warlords.
# National Security Council declared the SOE on Friday with K6million funds to be raised.
# PNG Defence receives call out, though orders not yet given. (Friday)
# Small group of people block highlands highway on Friday morning, but cleared by PNG Defence Force
# Thomas Eluh returned as controller for SHP and SOE, advising the PM directly.
My thoughts
People are frustrated with an election system that they view as ‘corrupt’. The tension was simmering for a long period and the incident in Mendi can be seen as release of that frustration. They want to be heard. Its possible Mendi may settle down now, but it depends on how the Controller Thomas Eluh manages the various interests groups including the politicians concerned.
Thomas Kobol is challenging the interpretation by National Court.