This is an edited version of LIane Munau’s experience as the lone female candidate contesting the Bougainville Regional vacant seat in 2021. This is part one of two parts series where Llane talks about Bougainville women asking why their votes for Llane did not show on the tally when counting started.
The Bougainville Regional seat, which represents the people of Bougainville in the PNG parliament was left vacant when the incumbent resigned to contest the Bougainville presidential election in 2019. For those not familiar with the current Bougainville political arrangement, Bougainville has been an autonomous region since 2001. It is referred to as the Autonomous Region of Bougainville, with an House of Representatives led by a president. But it also has representatives in the PNG parliament who represent Bougainville just like any other province in PNG. The representatives in the PNG parliament include Open MPs representing the Open Electorates or districts in Bougainville whilst the Regional MP or Governor represents Bougainville as a whole. Llane contested the governor’s seat in January 2021.
By way of context, since 1975, no women in Bougainville has been elected to PNG parliament. Llane was seeking to become the first woman from Bougainville to win a seat in the PNG parliament. A seat in PNG parliament at this point in time is very crucial, not least being that the PNG Parliament has the final say in whether or not Bougainville becomes independent. In 2019, Bougainvilleans voted 98% in favour of independence from PNG. But the final decision on their political status resides with the 111 MPs in PNG parliament. One of Llane’s five policy platforms was to seek PNG government for a fixed date for independence for Bougainville.
Below are Llane’s experience in her own words…
“The couple of weeks have been a very interesting journey for me as a sole female candidate in the Bougainville Regional Seat By-Election. As I haven’t posted on FB about my journey, but now I feel I owe it to my voters, friends, supporters and family, plus anyone else who wants to know how the elections from campaigning, to polling, and counting went for me.
In one word AWESOME!; until Monday when I started getting calls from women groups around the island asking me; ‘ol vote blong mipla go we?’ (Where are our votes?). And there was also the question, ‘Why na ol meri Bougainville no voteim displa wanpla meri candidate tasol? (Why didn’t the women of Bougainville vote for this sole female candidate?)
The answer is: the majority of females who voted did vote for me. Not because I was the only female candidate, but because they agreed with my five policy platforms.”
“Now, the big question is, where are the votes and why aren’t they showing on the tally board? In Siwai a group of more than 60 women hired a truck by themselves and went to a particular polling venue and cast their votes for me (Box 14); as they said, ‘it’s time they all vote for a female.’ But when the tally came out I only got 14 votes from the whole constituency. Where are these womens votes? Women do not lie about their votes, especially mothers from women fellowship groups.
In Taonita Teop and Taonita Tinputz it was the same. I didn’t mind until women called me up, or stopped our vehicle on the road to ask me, ‘ol vote blong mipla go we?’ ‘Mipla lotu group mama wantaim ol pikinini na man blong mipla go voteim yu.’ Then came the church youth groups, asking the same question, and the ex-combatants. I didn’t know how I could answer them because their votes never showed on the tally. I knew I had done a very good campaign in the Tinputz areas, and the places I couldn’t reach, the women, church groups and ex-combatants in the areas did very good campaigns there. However their votes never showed; plus the votes of my 300+ family in Tinputz. The tally showed that I got little to no votes from there as it seemed the two constituencies block voted for only one candidate.
Then I started to look at how the votes were tallied in each Region. In Central, when it came to boxes 75 – 130, where South and North Nasioi areas are in (where I come from), the PNGEC & OBEC (Office of Bougainville Electrol Commission) staff coordinating the counting stopped doing a call out for our scrutineers to know how much votes each candidate got in an area. Then the PNGEC & OBEC staff just closed the counting, packed all the ballot boxes without letting our scrutineers know the final results, and when the scrutineers enquired they gave excuses like: “there’s no pen marker to write the tally on the yellow canvas or, there’s no printer and ink etc…”
So we followed them to the OBEC office only to be met with more excuses. So from 2:30pm to 9:00pm we stood (in very heavy rain) there at the OBEC office waiting for some answers. They put out the yellow canvas in front of the OBEC office and started jotting numbers down, then in the night they gave us a print out, which to our surprise, one of our candidates numbers exceeded all to 13 thousand plus votes from just 55 ballot boxes, whilst the rest were two thousand less. I collected 1000+ votes from box 1 – 74, which are boxes not from my areas, but when it came to my home turf, I don’t know how the votes went because we candidates just got a print out telling us how many votes we got from Central votes. And now my family, friends and supporters are asking ‘Ol vote blong mipla go we?’
From South, my village in Nagovis there are less than 700 people. Voters would be 250 or less, but to my surprise, 1000+ votes came out from our box, and I got votes, but one particular candidate got 500+ votes from that box. I know it was one day polling and half the people didn’t vote; So What’s happening???? Where are these votes coming from?
Now it has dawned on me. These are the same questions supporters of candidates in the last Autonomous Bougainville Government election were asking; ‘OL VOTE BLONG MIPLA GO WE?’ Candidates they voted for especially in the Presidential and some special seats did not collect a single vote in their supporters areas. Many people in some of these areas have shared their sentiments and I begin to wonder, ‘Is our electrol process transparent? Have peoples votes been tampered with? Are our elected leaders voted into power in a clean way? Well I’m not a judge, but I am a journalist and an excellent researcher. I work with evidence and data, and from what I’ve collected, there is something very fishy going on.
Remember, Bougainville is a small island and we have family and friends everywhere, and for them to come show me their painted fingers and tell me straight to my face that they voted for me but I got no votes from their particular boxes, especially in the West Coast areas, I ask again, ‘What is happening. Where are these peoples votes??????’
Well all in all, people must know that majority of women in Bougainville did vote for me but where are their votes? Though it was one day polling and not many people voted, reports from presiding officers said, nearly all polling booths from North to South, more women went to vote than man. Now my question lies, ‘where are our votes?’ Women fellowship groups, of all denominations will not lie.
I’m writing this piece plus more to come because I know next year we will have another PNG National Election and I don’t ever want to hear voters asking the question ‘OL VOTE BLONG MIPLA GO WE?’ and to prepare those who will be stand to be cautious and protect your votes. I over trusted the system and the system has failed my mothers, sisters and supporters. But I have also trusted God wholly and His Word says, ‘…Whatever is hidden will be shouted on the roof tops.’ And the shouting has just began.
More to come, data to be published. ‘OUR TIME IS NOW!’ Esther 4:14.”
Note: this article represents the view of Llane Munau. It’s not objective. That should be kept in perspective. Nevertheless, if these claims are true it is a serious cause for concern. If almost 100% of the votes for the referendum was counted, why is it that elections should have missing votes?
Academia Nomad is republished Llane’s story with her permission. Part 2 will be published later.
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