Bougainville anniversary

The fourth anniversary of the historic referendum on Bougainville was on 11 December. 

Ninety-eight per cent of Bougainvilleans voted for Independence in the non-binding Bougainville Referendum – Post Courier carried on the front page Thursday 12 December 2019. The overwhelming result was announced on the afternoon of Wednesday, 11 December 2019. Of the 206,731 eligible voters registered by the Bougainville Referendum Commission, 181, 067 turned up to vote. 

Of this figure, 176,928 or 97.71 per cent voted for Independence while 3043 or 2.3 per cent chose greater autonomy. There were 1096 informal ballots. 

The referendum result was announced by the Bougainville Referendum Commission chairman, Bertie Ahern in Buka on Wednesday, 11 December 2019 at the conclusion of the five-day counting which took place at the Hutjena Secondary School Hall. 

A short programme at about 2pm on the day of announcement of the referendum result was attended by Bougainville President, John Momis, national Minister for Bougainville Affairs, Sir Puka Temu, national Communication and Information Technology Minister and MP for South-Bougainville, Timothy Masiu, Central Bougainville MP, Sam Akoitai, Bougainville referendum commissioners, Dr Thomas Webster, Patrick Nisira, Ruby Miringka, George Manu and Robert Igara. 

The Bougainville Referendum Commission (BRC) thanked the Governments of Papua New Guinea and the Autonomous Region of Bougainville, and the people of Bougainville for their outstanding participation in this historic process – one part of the Bougainville Peace Agreement. 

The BRC recognised the Referendum as a national event and also extended its gratitude to the people of Papua New Guinea. As an electoral process that aspired to meet international standards, it was for observers, scrutineers and the media, and indeed the people themselves, to determine whether the conduct of the Referendum was inclusive, accessible, free and fair. 

“We thank in particular scrutineers, and observers from here and overseas for bringing transparency and credibility to the process and we look forward to their reports over the coming days and weeks, the BRC acknowledgement read. 

“However, as the mandated independent body appointed to conduct the Bougainville referendum, it is our conclusion from what we witnessed ourselves throughout the process – through enrolment, polling and scrutiny – was an orderly process, following the laws and regulations provided, and was peaceful. We witnessed voting that was informed, free of fear and accessible. 

“Some of the numbers also tell an important story: the referendum roll had equal numbers of women and men voting. The referendum roll had 25 per cent first-time voters. The voter turnout, of at least 85 per cent, was high when compared with international democratic electoral experience, and is the highest of any electoral process in Papua New Guinea.

“The informal vote of 1000 was low when compared with international democratic electoral experience and national elections. We are grateful for the resources, financial and human, provided to conduct the referendum to the inclusive standard. These have been provided by the two governments, the electoral commissions of Papua New Guinea and Bougainville and the international community. 

The latter has been provided from the United Nations and Australia, Germany, Ireland, Japan, New Zealand, the United Kingdom and the United States. Many other organisations also contributed to the good conduct of the referendum. 

“The Bougainville Police Service, and their counterparts from the Regional Security Mission with police from 

New Zealand, Australia, Fiji, Vanuatu and Solomon Islands together with support from the Royal Papua New Guinea Constabulary, provided for good law and order and secure transport of polling materials. 

“We also thank Papua New Guinea High Commissions in Australia and Solomon Islands and acknowledge local service-providers. We wish the two Governments all the best in taking forward the referendum result through a process of consultation, and on to the national Parliament of Papua New Guinea for formal ratification as part of the ongoing peace process. 

On Friday we look forward to returning the Referendum Writ to the Governor-General in Port Moresby”. 

The BRC also acknowledged the benefit of some new electoral practices for inclusive voting, including: 

– Enrolment of Bougainvilleans in every province of PNG 

– Display of the preliminary Referendum roll for public objections and scrutiny 

– Postal voting for those travelling, sick or otherwise unable to access a polling place 

– Provisional voting, for those not on the Referendum roll at their place of polling 

– Out- of- country voting (in Solomon Islands and Australia), and Special polling at hospitals, or for people with disabilities. 

The Secondary School erupted with a tumultuous applause when Ahern announced the resounding vote and up went a rendition of the regional anthem: God bless our lovely homeland. The Post Courier report said the school hall was jam-packed with many unable to fit in, participating in the short ceremony from outside the hall.