A historic referendum on independence has been completed in Bougainville. Johnny Blades of RNZ was there.
People in the autonomous Papua New Guinea region of Bougainville have voted in an historic independence referendum. The long-anticipated referendum is the ultimate provision of 2001’s Bougainville Peace Agreement, which followed a brutal, protracted civil war.
As the start of polling approaches, festivities break out across the region. From young to old, everyone is involved. A village music ensemble at Tinputz on Bougainville’s north east coast performs in celebration.
Central Bougainville Elections Coordinator, Denise Palipal, says awareness of the referendum process has been very high after an extensive information across Bougainville which reached most communities in the remote interior.
One of the founding fathers of the Papua New Guinea national state, the President of the Autonomous Bougainville government, John Momis (centre in orange cap) arrives at the start of polling in Buka.
Watched on by local people, official observers and media, Bougainville Referendum Commission polling officials prepare the first ballot box to be used in the historic vote.
The Bougainville flag has been ubiquitous across the region during the referendum’s two-week polling period. People queuing at a polling booth take their flag and regional colours with them to vote.
The number of people enrolled to vote in the referendum was 206,731. This is a record enrolment level in Bougainville where the overall population is nearly 300-thousand.
Chief Joe Pais of Teako village is a former soldier who helped start the Bougainville war and then was part of the New Zealand-brokered peace process which led to the referendum. “We thank New zealand’s government and the people of New Zealand for that.”
Waiting to vote in the Bougainville sun is hot work. Thank goodness for polling booths like at Hutjena where people can queue in the shade of a tree.
New Zealand police led a Pacific regional team that has been in Bougainville to support the referendum process. A contingent of New Zealand police is already based in Bougainville for an ongoing community policing programme.
People voting in Bougainville’s independence referendum are made to dip their right pinkie finger in indelible ink before casting their ballot, in order to avoid double voting.
The peaceful and patient manner in which Bougainvilleans voted has been praised by Chief Referendum Officer Mauricio Claudio: “All are to be congratulated for the positive way people have engaged in this step of the Bougainville Peace process – whether it be in large urban centres, remote atolls or overseas.”
Young woman votes at a polling booth at Hutjena. Most Bougainvilleans are under the age of 25. For many of them, the referendum is their first opportunity to participate in an electoral process.
The vote count begins this weekend. The result is widely expected to be a majority vote for independence. People across Bougainville have high expectations, and are displaying unity.
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