The Governor-General of Papua New Guinea has issued the Referendum Writ to the Bougainville Referendum Commission (BRC)– officially declaring polling to begin on Saturday 23 November until Saturday 7 December.
The Chair, former Prime Minister of Ireland, Bertie Ahern, received the Writ at Government House from Governor-General Bob Dadae. The historic occasion was observed by Papua New Guinea Prime Minister James Marape, Minister for Bougainville Affairs Sir PukaTemu and Autonomous Bougainville Government Minister for Peace Agreement Implementation, members of Parliament and the diplomatic community.
Mr Ahern said, “It’s official, we are ready and we look for to delivering to the people of Bougainville and the two governments,a free and fair referendum to an international standard.”
The Writ closes the roll to new enrolments and sets the 20 December as the last day to return of the Writ to the Governor-General with the results:
- Number of votes for greater autonomy
- Number of votes for independence
- Number of informal ballot papers
“It’s a great and unique accomplishment of Bougainville and the two governments to reach this step, the eve of the Bougainville referendum after almost 20 years of continuous peace,” Mr Ahern said.
“I thank the 202,000-odd people of Bougainville who have got themselves enrolled. I thank the Ward Recorders and those officials who have tirelessly worked to prepare the roll and prepare us for this day.”
“The referendum should be celebrated. It should be a joyous occasion where every man and every woman can make a choice that expresses their individual democratic right to decide on the question of greater autonomy or independence for a future Bougainville.”
Prime MinisterMarape repeated his apology to the people of Bougainville for wrongs of the past.
“The referendum is time to heal the hurt and we fully support this process,” Mr Marape said.
“Our peace process is unique and we have a good story to tell the world. Our wish is that peace continues throughout this whole process as a lasting one.”
On Monday 30 September, all six Commissioners and representatives of the two governments will return to a public event in Arawa, Bougainville, to formally present the Writ to the Chief Referendum Officer, who will pass it to the Referendum Returning Officer, Mr John Sisiesi.
“The next steps are about the credibility and quality of the process,” Mr Ahern said.“We will be training thousands of officials to be ready for a professional, transparent and impartial poll and count.We will be continuing our enormous awareness campaign to ensure people understand the process and are they informed of the choices before them. That is our large task, and it is, as it always has been, a team effort.”
The Chair emphasized that the referendum result would not be a declaration of a winner or a loser.
“The referendum is not like an election where the result is final. There is no voter threshold to reach,” Mr Ahern said.
“The process after referendum will be a 40-day appeals process ending late January. Then it is for the two governments to continue to consult and negotiate based on the results.”
“From my long history of negotiating the Irish Good Friday Agreement, peace is a process. It is not a full stop at the end of a sentence. It will require patience and goodwill from all parties, and I am confident that what I am seeing here in Bougainville and in Papua New Guinea is a commitment to long lasting peace.