Fiji is leading the Pacific Islands Forum Observation Mission that will monitor a critical election in Bougainville leading up to a referendum on independence from Papua New Guinea.
The Supervisor of Elections, Mohammed Saneem, is travelling to the island to head the PIF observer group – which also includes Vanuatu – for the voting to choose a new Bougainville Autonomous Government.
The election – over a two week period – is being contested by 342 candidates, including nine vying for the Presidency of Bougainville currently held by the veteran politician, John Momis. The PIF, led by Fiji, joins an international observer force that also includes Australia, New Zealand, the United States, France, Japan, Britain and the Commonwealth.
The Supervisor of Elections described it as “a great honour” for Fiji to have been invited to head the PIF mission so soon after our own elections last September. “It is certainly a testament to the regard in which the Fijian Elections Office is held for the conduct of our own poll. Having staged an election deemed free and credible by our own Multinational Observer Group, we are now being asked to assist others to achieve the same high standard”, Mr Saneem said.
The PIF mission and the other observers have been guaranteed complete freedom of movement by the Office of the Bougainville Electoral Commissioner to monitor voting across 700 polling stations on the island. The election is the third for the autonomous PNG region since the peace agreement in 2001 that ended a bloody civil war on the island. But it is regarded as the most critical because of the referendum slated for this term on Bougainville’s future in Papua New Guinea.
During the next Parliament, the people of Bougainville will be asked, under the terms of the peace accord, to choose between whether to stay in PNG or become an independent nation. All candidates for the Presidency support the referendum proceeding. Other election issues include whether to reopen the giant Panguna copper and gold mine, which was shut down in 1989 because of the civil war that gripped the island and deprived the PNG Government of much of its revenue.
Counting of votes commences in the week of May 26 and ends on June 7, with the result announced soon afterwards. Fiji – represented by the Supervisor of Elections – will monitor the voting itself on behalf of the PIF and Vanuatu – represented by its Electoral Commissioner, John Taleo – will monitor the counting. Reports from Bougainville say the four-week campaign has been trouble free.