By Netani Rika, Port Moresby
A NEW phenomenon has emerged in the Bougainville referendum – Balfies.
Defined as a voter taking a selfie with their ballot paper, the trend has taken off, sparking concern among poll officials.
Today voters were warned to refrain from posting pictures of marked ballot papers online.
“The polling process is private and should remain that way,” an official of the Bougainville Referendum Commission told voters. “Please keep your votes to yourselves.”
There have been suggestions that the trend may force officials to ask voters to surrender their phones at polling booths. Bougainville’s 206,000 voters must choose between independence and greater autonomy from Papua New Guinea in a referendum which started on Saturday and ends on November 29.
There has been much excitement in Bougainville with dancing and feasting at most venues. Autonomous Bougainville Government flags fly from homes, boats, cars and trucks as people celebrate the referendum which is guaranteed under a peace deal signed in 2010.
A 10 year civil war over mining royalties erupted in 1989 and 15,000 were killed.
As celebrations continue with peaceful voting, voters have entered a furious discussion over posting their votes online. Given the level of excitement, only official intervention is likely to stop the trend.
“It’s just a manifestation, an overflowing of excitement that peace is here and independence is possible,” one international observer said.
Whether Bougainville becomes a nation will be determined by the referendum, an ensuing bilateral negotiation between PNG and the ABG and ratification by the latter’s parliament. For now Bougainville must be content with the creation of a new trend – Balfing.
- Netani Rika’s travel to Bougainville was funded by the Pacific Island Forum Secretariat