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Stage set for referendum on Bougainville's future

Bougainvilleans are to vote in June this year to decide whether to remain part of Papua New Guinean or to be independent.

The national government has tasked the Bougainville Referendum Commission (BRC) to formulate and finalise the questions that will be on the ballot paper and the tentative dates for the referendum.

On the ground in Bougainville, there has been a lot of preparatory work including public awareness programmes and activities to help people understand what exact to do.

Elected leaders in PNG’s three-tier government system on Bougainville have worked tirelessly with many others to have all the three electorates, (North, Central and South Bougainville) referendum-ready.

Many groups and communities from all over Bougainville have come out publicly declaring themselves referendum-ready.

Indicative of this fact have been widely reported in the mainstream print and electronic media as well as via social media platforms.

However, despite the government declaring Bougainville referendum a major agenda for 2019, Prime Minister Peter O’Neill claimed that “there may be interference from outside”.

Intrusion from where and who would be responsible, PM O’Neill failed to specify, but said “it would likely entail misinformation which he warned Bougainvilleans to be wary of”.

He said communications are essential for everyone on Bougainville and rest of PNG to be aware of issues at hand and the important process ahead.

O’Neill warned of misinformation by vested interests to gain at the expense of the people.

Former prime minister of Ireland, Bertie Ahern has been appointed by the Joint Supervisory Body as chair of the BRC.

During his term as prime minister, Ahern was involved in negotiations between parties to bring about peace in Northern Ireland.

He has since been involved in facilitating peace in areas including Ukraine, Nigeria, Iran, Turkey and Basque Country.

Ballot Paper

The preamble of the 2019 Bougainville referendum ballot paper states that: “The outcome of the referendum on the future political status of Bougainville, will be discussed by both governments (GoPNG and ABG), and will be presented to the National Parliament for final decision making in accordance with the Bougainville Peace Agreement and the National Constitution.”

On the ballot paper, there are only two (02) questions in English and in brackets Tok Pisin for voters to mark with an X:

Greater Autonomy (Bikpela pawa long Autonomi); and

Independence (Indipendens)

Tentative dates

The BRC has set the tentative dates for the 2019 Bougainville Referendum and are as follows;

Issue of writs: 4pm Monday April 15, 2019;

Start campaign: Tuesday April 16, 2019;

End campaign: Midnight Friday June 14, 2019;

First day of polling: Saturday June 15, 2019;

Last day of polling: Friday June 28, 2019;

Start count of vote: 6pm Friday June 28, 2019; and

Return of writs: On or before Friday July 19, 2019.

Calculation of days

Campaign period: 61 days, April 16 – June 14, 2019;

Polling period: 14 days, June 15 – June 28, 2019; and

Counting period: 21 days, June 28 – July 19, 2019.

After the vote, the PNG national government and Autonomous Bougainville Government will discuss and report to the National Parliament.

Need stressing is that the final decision on the future political status of Bougainville rests with and will be decided by PNG National Parliament.

This means the PNG National Parliament will have final say on whether Bougainville:

Remains integral part of PNG under an autonomous arrangement with added administrative and legislative powers; or

Let go Bougainville to be an independent nation.


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