From NETANI RIKA on Buka, Bougainville
THE first day of Bougainville’s referendum on independence has been described as a good day for world peace.
Chief Referendum Officer, Mauricio Claudio, told a media conference here today (23/11) that the day proceeded peacefully and without incident. “Today was a good day for world peace,” Claudio said.
“The qualitative assessment is that turnout was high and there was a good representation of voters – young, old, men and women.’’
The referendum is part of the Bougainville Peace Agreement which was signed in August 2001 and paved the way for autonomy while remaining part of Papua New Guinea.
More than 206 ,000 islanders will vote at 800 sites in Bougainville, PNG and the Solomon Islands.
The President of the Autonomous Government of Bougainville, John Momis, was the first person to cast his vote at Buka.
Momis described the referendum as forging a new path into the unknown.
“We are a resilient people who stand (at) an important part of our history,’’ he said. “We will face this together as one people and one voice to decide our ultimate political future that is within the confines of democratic values and international best practice standards.”
Observers noted the calm and orderly progress made during the first day of voting.
Claudio said the mood among Bougainvilleans appeared to be festive with feasting and dancing at some venues.
Teams of international observers from the Commonwealth and the Pacific Islands Forum Secretariat have been deployed at Buka, Arawa and Buin to monitor the referendum.
PIFS Observer Makereta Waqavonovono from Fiji noted that while there was a lengthy wait at some polling stations with voters waiting in the hot sun to cast their votes, people appeared happy.
Other Fijian observers on Bougainville are activist Sharon Bhagwan-Rolls and lawyer Graham Everett Leung.
Observers spent the day travelling to polling stations, speaking to voters and officials to determine whether the process is free and fair.
• Netani Rika’s travel to Bougainville was funded by the Pacific Islands Forum Secretariat