PNG and Bougainville govts briefed in Buka on referendum

2:28 pm on 13 September 2019

The Bougainville Referendum Commission has advised the Papua New Guinea and Bougainville governments that it is "referendum ready".

A tentative date of June 15th 2019 has been set for a referendum on possible independence in the Autonomous Papua New Guinea region of Bougainville.

Photo: RNZI / Johnny Blades

The governments were briefed at a Joint Supervisory Body meeting in Buka regarding Bougainville's upcoming independence referendum.

PNG prime minister James Marape this week took his cabinet for an historic visit to Bougainville where he addressed the autonomous region's House of representatives on Wednesday.

At Thursday's briefing in Buka, the governments were told by the Commissioner Robert Igara that the commission was ready to deliver the referendum to international standard.

"Our aim is a credible referendum, where there is free, fair and informed voting - and where all eligible voters exercise their democratic choice."

Chief Referendum Officer Mauricio Claudio gave a full operational briefing, saying ballot papers had already been printed, and that a wide-ranging enrolment process was in full swing.

He said that the commission had made full use of the six week-extension to the referendum process which the two governments granted a couple of months ago.

"We went out and enrolled those, that new cohort of people that suddenly became eligible due to the six-week extension," he said.

But the Commission noted two critical issues for the governments' attention.

Bad weather is hampering efforts to enrol 1,800 eligible voters on Mortlock and Tasman Atolls, prompting the commission to request logistic air or sea support from the two governments in order to complete enrolment in these outliers.

And the commission says more information is required regarding the two options on the ballot paper. The options for voters to consider are greater autonomy or independence.

"However, the BRC right now doesn't have a lot of information coming from the government," Mr Claudio explained.

"So far what we have is only the one-sentence definition for each of the two options. And we don't even have it in Tok Pisin. The BRC will be submitting a paper to the two governments to get assistance on getting more information."

Meanwhile, Mr Claudio said it was critical for people to check if they were enrolled, with eligible voters still able to enrol until 27 September, when the writs are issued.

He said the commission had broken new ground in PNG electoral history with various achievements in the process to date, including enrolling voters outside the national boundaries, with the BRC enrolling people based in Australia and Solomon Islands.

He said another way that the commission had raised the electoral bar was through implementation of a provisional balloting system, so that no one is turned away.

"If a person is not found on the referendum roll at his or her polling location, he or she will be offered a provisional ballot which will be checked later to make sure the person is indeed entitled to vote.

"If the person is found on the entirety of the roll, that vote will be entered into the scrutiny. Otherwise, the vote will be cast aside."

The preliminary roll of voters, which is now on display with around 191-thousand voters, represents an increase of over 10 percent on the roll used in Bougainville's 2015 regional elections.

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