Bougainville Referendum: Applications for postal voting open

Bougainville is about to enter a two week polling period for a non-binding referendum on independence from PNG.

The devastation to infrastructure from a civil war over two decades ago is still evident, but today Arawa is upbeat and a hive of activity.

Polling officers are completing their training, polling material is ready to go, and scrutineers and observers are converging on the region.

Locals say they have been waiting for this moment for a long time and they’ll grab the opportunity to place their vote with over 200,000 Bougainvilleans enrolled for polling which begins this Saturday.

Bougainville’s president has told Parliament the post-referendum period will be critical to the end of the peace process.

John Momis said whatever the outcome, the negotiations and consultations would be complex.

It would require careful and strategic thinking about what Bougainvilleans wanted the region to look like in the future.

But Mr Momis added that he was confident they were united and ready for hard negotiations.

Bougainville President John Momis

Bougainville President John Momis Photo: supplied

He has called for the best team of negotiators for Bougainville, one that includes women, churches, business people, veterans and Bougainvilleans living outside of Bougainville.

Mr Momis has called on the people of Bougainville to ensure peace is maintained before, during, and after the referendum.

“Whatever the outcome, it must be both peaceful and mutually acceptable,” he said.

The president, who is nearing the end of his second and last term in office, said 2019 would go down in history as the year where Bougainvilleans finally got to express their views about their future political status.

It was a year where Bougainvilleans could demonstrate to the world that they were a mature and democratic people, he said.

Source; RNZ

Solomons boost border security for Bougainville referendum

Police in Solomon Islands have beefed up security along the shared maritime border with Papua New Guinea, ahead of the Bougainville independence referendum this weekend.

The non-binding referendum, which begins on Saturday, is the final expression of the Bougainville Peace Agreement, signed in 2001 to formally end the decade long civil conflict.

Fighting during the war often spilled into Western Solomons.

Officers from the Royal Solomon Islands Police Force have this week been visiting communities in the Shortland Islands, which are only a few hours by boat from Bougainville, to reassure them that they will be maintaining an increased presence in the region while the referendum is being conducted.

Referendum offers possibility of change for Bougainville’s atolls

Communities on Bougainville’s atolls hope the upcoming independence referendum is an impetus for improved services to the remote islands.

A two-week polling period begins this Saturday for Bougainville’s referendum on independence from Papua New Guinea.

The non-binding referendum is a provision of 2001’s Bougainville Peace Agreement, which formally ended hostilities from a civil war which raged through the 1990s.

Sione Paasia, an aviation consultant who hails from Takuu atoll (also known as Mortlock), says all of Bougainville has suffered from neglect of public services since the civil war.

He says that for people of Bougainville’s atolls, their biggest need is for more frequent shipping services.

On average a ship comes by only about five or six times a year, he says.

“And that makes it hard for a lot of things, including economic activities, including health and education services especially.

“So as a result there’s been a huge urban drift from the atolls to Buka and a lot of other parts of PNG.”

According to Mr Paasia, he is one of about 1600 Takuus who left their atoll in search of opportunity and are now scattered around PNG and other parts of the world.

He’s been told there’s less than 400 people left on Takuu itself.

Nukutoa village, Takuu.

Nukutoa village, Takuu. Photo: Briar March

The Bougainville Referendum Commission has gone to significant lengths to enrol people of Bougainville’s atolls to participate in the vote.

The islanders see the referendum as a potential step towards restoring some of the cohesiveness that Bougainville’s economy and public services had before the civil war.

Apart from the Panguna copper mine, which was central to sparking the crisis, the Bougainville economy had been been under-pinned by agriculture, especially based on thriving cocoa and coconut plantations which have still not recovered.

And Mr Paasia says that Bougvainville has another valuable resource – good leaders.

“I believe the reason why we did so well back then was that we had leaders who had convictions and who were not involved in self-interest. They were focussed on what we need to do for Bougainville,” he says.

“Natural resources don’t necessarily make a country prosper, unless you have good leaders.

“Suffering tends to change people,” Mr Paasia says, adding that he feels there are now more people who seek benefit without putting in the hard work.

It didn’t help Bougainville that widespread destruction of its public infrastructure, and the lasting trauma of armed conflict, robbed multiple generations of access to education.

“Today there’s a lot of opportunists out there, and I think it’s been driven by this mindset – which we have probably borrowed from the rest of PNG of handouts,” Mr Paasia says.

In his view, the upcoming vote for independence or greater autonomy offers a chance to change this.

“PNG will be a better country if Bougainville becomes independent.”

He believes Bougainville and PNG can co-exist harmoniously and prosper in partnership.

“As long as we identify the right leaders who are progressive and have that mindset and integrity to lead Bougainville post-2020.

“There’s a lot of good Bougainvillean leaders out there who are yet to step up onto that platform of leadership. And if we can get those leaders in there, we’ll turn Bougainville around and we’ll turn the services to the atolls around as well.”

Source: RNZ

Bougainville vote results to be delivered in one announcement

Results in Bougainville’s upcoming referendum on independence from Papua New Guinea will be delivered in just one announcement.

The two-week polling period for the non-binding referendum begins on 23 November.

The verification, scrutiny and count process is to begin at the Count Centre in Buka once polling closes on 7 December.

The Bougainville Referendum Commission’s chairman Bertie Ahern said the vote would be delivered to the highest of international electoral standards.

He said that given the need to deliver a clear and credible process, a running tally of votes would not be provided, in order to avoid confusion.

“We are sure that the process will be safe, secure and will enable us to deliver an accurate and credible result,” he said.

“We are also following internationally recognised steps to ensure that the process is open to scrutineers, observers and the media.”

Mr Ahern said that the commission hoped to conclude counting well before the final date for the return of the writ – 20 December.

“Given the emotions of the vote, we will announce just one set of results, which will be the final one so as not to confuse people.

“The BRC will announce the final number of votes cast for greater autonomy and independence, plus the number of informal ballot papers. No more, and no less.”

Meanwhile, hundreds of scrutineers and observers have received accreditation to monitor Bougainville’s upcoming independence referendum.

Briefings were held yesterday in Bougainville’s three main centres, Buka, Arawa and Buin, for 95 observers and 554 scrutineers.

The Bougainville Referendum Commission said the briefings were to ensure the observers and scrutineers understood their role in supporting a transparent and credible referendum.

As well as dozens of domestic observers, several teams of international referendum observers will be converging on Bougainville in the next week ahead of the vote.

Source: RNZ

Bougainvilleans encouraged to prepare for post-referendum

Bougainvilleans are being encouraged to consult with teams holding transitional dialogue on what happens after the upcoming referendum.

People from the autonomous Papua New Guinea region begin a two-week polling period tomorrow for a non-binding vote on whether Bougainville should be independent or have greater autonomy.

The result of the referendum is subject to ratification by PNG’s national Parliament.

The co-ordinator of the Bougainville Transitional Dialogue for the region’s central district, Agatha Banako, said they were helping people prepare for the period following the vote.

It was an ongoing process that was overseen by the PNG and Autonomous Bougainville governments.

“Whatever the result is, we still have to let the people speak their minds out – what they think on how Bougainville should be run. What are the things, the priorities and how they should be set up, for example areas of economy, education, health,”

she said.

Ms Banako has also been helping disabled people in her ward to get papers to participate in the referendum by postal vote.

As the deadline for obtaining papers for postal voting approached, Ms Banako said it was important for disabled people and others who might struggle to reach a polling station to get papers with the correct information.

Source: RNZ