BRC sets out Guidelines for Canvassing during Referendum

The Bougainville Referendum Commission has announced guidelines for a positive, peaceful and credible referendum.

Commission Chair Hon. Bertie Ahern said the guidelines – BRC Issuance on Canvassing, Broadcasting, Publications, Advertising – encouraged a respectful and informed discussion of the two options, freedom of speech and the encouragement of social cohesion.

“The Organic Law is actually silent on the issue of campaigning, but the Commission is mindful of the negative connotation of the term ‘campaigning’ in Bougainville,” Mr Ahern said. “Instead, the Commission uses the term ‘canvassing’ and provides guidance for other forms of media and communication.”

“Together, we must balance the need to deliver a credible referendum where all voters are aware of the two options before them, as well as supporting the ongoing peace process.”

The Issuance notes that there is no formal campaign period, but requests a period of silence 72 hours ahead of polling (midnight 20 November) to provide for peaceful reflection, in line with international good practice.

“There are two common misunderstandings about referendum and campaigning,” Mr Ahern said.

“One is that the issue of the Writ on 27 September marks the start of campaigning. That is not true. The law does not provide a formal start or end of campaigning.”

“This means that anyone or any group, can canvass for either option between now and the count. Through the Issuance, the BRC encourages discussion of both options in a respectful, peaceful way, so that despite people’s preferred choice, all are aware of what each option means.”

“The second misunderstanding is that only formally Recognised Interest Groups can be involved in campaigning. This is also not true, anyone can canvass for either option.”

Under Sch.1.9 of the Organic Law BRC is mandated to:

promote informed debate on each side of the question to be put at the Referendum, and to encourage wider public interest and involvement in ensuring that the Referendum is conducted in a free and fair manner.”

Mr Ahern said the BRC continued to encourage further development of information about the two options by the two governments, and would be submitting a formal paper on this at the upcoming Joint Supervisory Body meeting.

By law, scrutineers have no formal role in campaigning, but can ask six questions of a voter, through the presiding officer, which are also set out in the law – such as whether a voter is over the age of 18 years. They can also monitor the transport of ballot boxes and the scrutineering process during the count.

The BRC Issuance on Canvassing, Broadcasting, Publications, Advertising together with the BRC Policy on Public Involvement are available at: http://bougainville-referendum.org/gazettes-public-issuance/, or BRC Regional Offices (Buka, Arawa and Buin).

Excerpts from the The BRC Issuance on Canvassing, Broadcasting, Publications, Advertising:

The BRC calls for all citizens to act in a manner that does not intimidate persons from airing their views and to respect the right to free speech and opinion held by others. This includes the choices to be put to voters on the Referendum ballot. The BRC further calls on those engaging in the Referendum to act responsibly by avoiding hate speech and by encouraging social cohesion.

  1. The BRC calls for a silence period starting from 00:00 on 20 November 2019 to 08:00 on 23 November when polling commences. This period will allow for voter reflection and consideration before the commencement of polling. During the period, there should be no canvassing.
  2. Every individual voter has the right to a secret vote, and no group or individual should encourage the practice of block voting or in any way undermining of secrecy of the vote.
  3. No group or individual should seek to influence voters unfairly through monies, gifts, gratuities, threats or promises.
  4. Harassment of any kind during canvassing, broadcasting, publication, media and communication activities is unacceptable and using language that incites hatred or violence in any form is prohibited.
  5. Canvassing, broadcasting, publication, media and communication activities must be conducted or developed in a way that is grounded in fact and avoids community friction and unrest.

The Commission also reminds groups and individuals of the following requirements of the Organic Law on PeaceBuilding in Bougainville-Autonomous Bougainville Government and Bougainville Referendum 2002 (Part XVI Offences).

  1. Media outlets must label, announce or describe any referendum content as an ‘advertisement’ that is paid or compensated for by any group.
  2. Any media article, broadcast announcement or advertisement published from the date of issue of the writ until the return of the writ, that comments on the referendum question (greater autonomy or independence) must also include the author’s true name and address.
  3. All advertisements, posters, pamphlets etc. must include the name and address of the person authorising the publication or issue, and the name and place of business of the printer being printed at the foot of it.
  4. It is an offence to publish any statements, voting instructions, or sample ballots that may mislead or improperly interfere with a voter in the casting of his or her vote. However, it is permissible to print and publish material that contains advice on how to vote on a particular question, so long as those instructions are not intended or likely to mislead a voter in or in relation to the casting of his vote.
  5. It is an illegal practice at any time to write or display any material in a public place, intended or calculated to affect the result of the Referendum.
  6. Disorderly behaviour is prohibited at any meetings or gatherings related to the Referendum.
  7. During the polling period, canvassing is prohibited within seven (7) metres of a polling booth, and political emblems are not allowed in polling booths.
  8. Using a loudhailer during the polling period is prohibited (unless used by the police or voting official).