Shall PNG learn from the Bougainville referendum polling

The Bougainville Referendum vote winds down this week but its polling last week had been lauded as historical, festive and peaceful.

The voters and the citizens of Bougainville deserve commendation for this and more so the Bougainville Referendum Commission deserve applaud for exceptional coordination.

Indeed the world magnified its lenses on Bougainville as witnessed by the presence of the international media, observers and increased behind the scene discourse about the future of Bougainville.

Bougainville President John Momis being interviewed by SBS and ABC journalists at Hahela in Buka

Is there are new a new country emerging and can I court her?

Of course the geo-political interest among the players in the Pacific like Australia and China drew some interest and a niche of business and political groups pay much attention to it.

But for an average Bougainville, he or she pays little attention.

Their goal set is to go to the polling booth and vote freely, peacefully and await the outcome.

What we should all hope for now is that this tone should set the pace for counting, post referendum dialogue and ratification.

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There is a compelling conclusion within communities that this would be so and people want ultimate peace no matter what the referendum outcome is.

From Buka to Buin, there were feasts before votes and people were well mannered.

It was like a religious peace.

People were dressed in their traditional regalia, some had their children and grand children with them at the polling booth, all in orderly manner and being very patient.

A voter told the Chief Bougainville referendum officer Mauricio Claudio that they have waited for this for almost two decades and despite the period it takes to queue and then cast a vote, it was no big issue.

The Upe getting ready to vote at Teua (Kunua)

At the far flung Teua (Kunua) region south from Buka and on west coast of Bougainville island, six Upe men voted in the referendum.

Never during the political elections of Papua New Guinea had these men voted.

They spend three years in the jungles going through rituals and rites of passage to graduate from boys to men and they are not allowed to be seen by women.

But during this referendum, they walked out from the jungle, voted and then retreated to their sacred learning centre.

They have an agenda but demonstrated it in a peaceful manner just by walking to the polling booth wearing the Upe, cast their vote and walk out.

They are custodians of the Upe design captured in the Bougainville flag and they appeal for services.

Associates of controversial U-Vistract money scheme in South Bougainville also voted in the referendum.

Women became active participants in the referendum, voting at their free will as we hear, see and they carried ballot boxes draped in the Bougainville flag and decorated in traditional regalia, moved to storage areas.

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There was a liquor ban for two weeks and what we noted, voters behaved, people turned up at church and prayed.

Surely people believed in religion, government and the Melanesian custom to collaborate in order for them to achieve ultimate peace and installing a democratic government.

The moment polls opened the previous Saturday and the Autonomous Bougainville Government president John Momis cast his vote- it was the most highly anticipated moment for everyone.

Some with tears of joy, it was healing for the scars created by the bloody civil war started 30 years ago and lasted 10 years.

This week polling has wound down as they move to orderly and securely transport ballot boxes to the count centre in Buka.

The Bougainville referendum commission in a brief statement says polling across Bougainville was completed on Saturday.

The BRC is now focused on orderly movement according to plan with security, with scrutiny and with observation.

They should keep observers and scrutineers aware of movement of materials.

As the referendum goes into the next phase which is counting, the tone of peace and being orderly set during polling should continue.

If there is a leaf, we believe, that can be taken out from the Bougainville referendum, the PNG Electoral Commission and the citizens should without doubt adopt during the national general elections.

Observers have already been over impressed.

Keep the pace, the tone and exhibit to the country and the world what a Melanesian peace process in collaboration with modern democratic election and governance entail.



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