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By Makereta Komai, PACNEWS Editor in Buka, Bougainville
As thousands of Bougainvilleans turned out in large numbers to vote at 21 polling centres on Saturday, there was an air of general optimism for change and the eventual liberation from Papua New Guinea.
Voters, young and old at the two polling centres on Buka Island visited by PACNEWS were confident that the ‘time has come to sever links with PNG, no matter how long the process will take, as expressed by 69 year old Taehu Pais from the atoll island of Nukumanu.
Pais and his 68 year old wife Aida did not want to miss out on the historical vote and made the 48 hour journey by from their island to be in Buka on Saturday to make their vote count.
When PACNEWS caught up with them after their vote, husband and wife could not contain their joy that the day they had been waiting for the last two decades was now a reality.
“It’s like a dream come true for many of us in our generation that experienced the crisis – and to now see this new day dawn for our future generation, it’s a sad but joyous occasion.
“The bottom line for us is we have not been happy with the kind of treatment that we get from the national government. Our vote today is a collective demonstration by the people of Bougainville that its time to leave PNG.
Pais, who was former Member of Parliament for the Atolls region the Bougainville Parliament told PACNEWS while the future after the referendum remains largely unknown, both governments need to be honest and transparent in the process of negotiating the final outcome to be ratified by the PNG Parliament.
“We are confident it will get there but we don’t want to return to the darks days of the civil unrest in Bougainville, said Pais.
20 year old Joshua Nakin, speaking for his friends after they voted at the Bel Isi Park in downtown Buka Town said, “We voted today because whatever the outcome, it will affect our future. We want to show that through unity, we the people of Bougainville can manage our own affairs.
Nakin, who’s just completed year 12, had a simple message for his peers, “Through education and hard work, the people of Bougainville can determine their future on their own.
“Most of the young people want independence but I feel more needs to be discussed and the young people need to be part of that consultation, said Nakin.
Of the 21 polling centres opened on Saturday, there were consistent reports of positive voter experience with no security issues, reported the Chief Referendum Officer, Mauricio Claudio in his daily briefing to local and international media and observers.
Claudio said a good turn-out of men, women, young and old were recorded at the end of day one of voting at polling centres throughout Bougainville and Papua New Guinea.
“Today was a historic day with a festival mood as Bouganvilleans turned out in large numbers to vote. President John Momis and Lady Momis were the first to cast their votes in Buka while key ex-combatants Chris Uma and Ishmael Toroama were first to cast their votes in Arawa, said Claudio.
Teams have departed for the atoll islands of Nissan, Tasman and Mortlock Islands and another team will depart Sunday for Carterets and Nuguria for voting on Monday. Electoral teams for Australia and Solomon Islands have left on Saturday for voting in Cairns, Brisbane in Australia and Honiara and Gizo in the Solomon Islands.
The referendum vote, which will run until 07 December, is guaranteed in the Bougainville Peace Agreement and asks the people of Bougainville to decide whether they want greater autonomy or independence from Papua New Guinea.
Choosing greater autonomy will mean a negotiated political settlement that provides for a form of autonomy with greater powers than those currently available under constitutional arrangements.
However, a choice for independence will result in a new nation with sovereign powers and laws, recognised under international law, separate from the State of Papua New Guinea. Severing ties with Papua New Guinea will not happen right away as both governments, the PNG Government and the Autonomous Bougainville Government (ABG) will consult and negotiate an outcome that will be ratified by the PNG Parliament. There is no clear timeframe on how long the negotiation process will take.
Makereta Komai’s coverage of the Bougainville independence is made possible with funding support from the Pacific Islands Forum Secretariat
Pacific Islands News Association
Who & What is PINA?
International News Safety Institute (INSI)
Media Helping Media