Special treatment for women, disabled voters

By Netani Rika, Buka-: Bougainville

VOTERS with special needs have received quick, relevant assistance in the Bougainville Referendum.

This is despite the absence of ramps at many polling stations.

Observer Makereta Waqavonovono of the Pacific Islands Forum Secretariat monitoring group said there were no facilities for pregnant women or mothers with children. “Much of the polling is held at town or village stages which are off the ground and inaccessible to people in wheelchairs or on crutches,” Waqavonovono said. “It would have been good to provide shade and seating for expectant mums or mothers with children. “It has been very hot and the long lines make the voting experience uncomfortable for those with special needs.”

But Waqavonovono said polling officials had acted swiftly to help those in need. “Ballot papers have been taken to the wheelchair-bound,” she said. “Polling officials have recognised the needs and made efforts to deal with the issues in a practical manner.”

Yesterday, Waqavonovono travelled by boat to Kokopau Town to meet voters and officials. She said voting had been orderly but festivities – dancing and feasting – showed the excitement of voters. Waqavonovono is a lawyer by profession, former magistrate and chair of the Fiji Women’s Rights Movement.

Voting continued today in North Bougainville, the Carteret Islands, Gizo and Cairns.

Around 206,000 people are expected to vote before polls close on November 29. Voters will choose between independence or greater autonomy from Papua New Guinea.

Bougainville erupted into civil war in 1989 after landowners were unhappy with the distribution of wealth from the copper-rich Panguna Mine operated by Australia’s Bougainville Copper Limited. More than 15,000 people died in the 10-year war.

  • Netani Rika travelled to Bougainville courtesy of the Pacific Islands Forum Secretariat