The Chairperson of the Commonwealth Observer Group for the Bougainville Referendum, Anote Tong, former President of Kiribati, has issued a Preliminary Statement concluding that the referendum process was credible, transparent and inclusive.
An overwhelming majority, 97.7 per cent of those who cast ballots, voted for independence for Bougainville in this non-binding referendum. The next step provided under the 2001 Bougainville Peace Agreement is consultation between the National Government and the Autonomous Regions of Bougainville. The Peace Agreement further states that the National Parliament will make the final decision on the region’s political future.
There were several encouraging features of the referendum. The Referendum Roll showed that equal numbers of women and men voted; 25 percent were first time voters; the turnout was 85 per cent.
New innovations introduced for the referendum included enrolment of Bougainvilleans in every Province of Papua New Guinea; display of the preliminary Referendum Roll for public scrutiny and objections; postal voting for those travelling, sick or otherwise unable to access a polling place; provisional voting for those not on the Referendum Roll at their place of polling; out of country voting (in Australia and Solomon Islands); and special voting at hospitals and for people with disabilities.