Bougainville Regional Election: Going backwards from the gains of referendum?

Llane Munau, sole female candidate for Bougainville Regional Seat, 2021. PC: Llane Munau

Let’s begin with a have a quick summary of what this blog is about. This is part two of the regional candidate Llane Munau, the lone female candidate’s experience contesting the recent Bougainville regional election. Earlier we published part one where the Bougainville people, particularly the womenfolk, asked Llane “where is our vote”? (vote blo mipla go we) when the counting tally didn’t reflect how they voted. See link to part one of the article at the end.

Part will make one uneasy. When PNG Electoral Commission set the dates for the Bougainville regional election in January 2021, the Office of Bougainville Electoral Commission was not notified. At least that’s what they said. And then the polling day was initially set to run for two days, but reduced to one day for some polling stations (locations). This information didn’t get to the people on time. The polling day for some stations (Central Bougainville for instance) were changed just before the polling day. Again, many voters didn’t know about it. In PNG, any last minute change is a very bad idea, given how slow communications flow. It’s even worse in Bougainville considering the bad communication infrastructure following detestations from the 10 year conflict.

The number of polling stations, more than 400, exceeded the number of police personnel in Bougainville by the hundreds, so naturally integrity of the voting process is now being questioned. Scrutineers who observed very low turnout for the actual voting day in some stations due to change of dates and reduced number of days were surprised that ballot boxes that were supposed to have just 6-12 ballot papers exceeded this numbers during counting…. any many more suspicious and questionable practices and outcomes are being reported.

This claims contrasts with the excellent Bougainville referendum conducted in 2019.

The referendum in 2019 was regarded as great success, not only because it was fulfilling the third and last pillar of the Bougainville Peace Agreement of 2001 (three pillars of BPA were: Autonomy, Weapons Disposal and Referendum), but because it was regarded as transparent, credible, inclusive and innovative by local and international observers. It applied several aspects of election management that were never tried in PNG elections. For instance, ballots were taken to the old people and the disabled who couldn’t come to the polling station; those residing outside of Bougainville – PNG, Solomon Islands, and even Australia were able to vote; and those who didn’t have their names on the common roll still voted under the ‘provisional’ voting. The provisional votes were taken to the counting station and cross-checked with the updated common rolls and counted if the names were on the updated common roll.

So how did a region that did so well for the referendum in 2019 do so poorly for the regional elections just a year later?

Below is Llane’s experience. It’s taken from her Facebook post. It constitutes Part 2 of Llane’s story republished by Academia Nomad on 3 February 2021.


“The first dates of the bi-election were circulated and I sent the circular around. However, I felt I had to reconfirm the dates with OBEC (Office of Bougainville Electrol Commission). The OBEC didn’t know anything about the first dates. So I looked again at the circular and it was from the PNG Electrol Commission. Well understandably; it was an election for the PNG National Government, not Bougainville. Anyway the first dates were postponed and then the second dates came out and I went and nominated.

During my 6 weeks of campaigning, I heard that there will be only one day polling; eventhough the dates given said there would be 2 weeks of polling. When enquiring, the reply was, “…the PNG Electrol Commission would be trialing a new system of running the whole elections so they could use it in the upcoming 2022 PNG National elections.”
When polling day drew nigh, I got the list of places where polling would be held. There were 442 polling sites all through out Bougainville. My first thoughts were, ‘we don’t even have 442 police personels on Bougainville. Who will guard each polling venue?’

Then I looked at the places were the people were expected to go and vote and honestly, some of the villages were miles away from the allocated polling sites. Bougainville has rugged terrain and people have to walk hours, even days to get to a voting venue in some areas. Bougainville might be an island, but the geography and terrain make getting around very difficult. I wondered how 1 day polling could be achieveable, but thought with proper planning and preparation, maybe this could be achieved.

When we got the polling date (Wednesday 20th, 2020), we started letting our supporters know to prepare them to turn up at the polling sites. For us in Central Bougainville, there were 130 polling sites. However in the afternoon of the 19th we got word on the street that polling for Central would be postponed to Thursday 21st because the electrol team in Arawa (Central) were slow to collect their polling items from Buka. The funny thing is, South Bougainville already got their items (eventhough they’re further away from Buka than Central) and they polled on the 20th and 21st 2 days in some areas.

Because it was already late, we couldn’t pass on the message to voters in the rural areas, and many voters in the rural areas turned up to the polling venues on the given date, only to be told to come back the next day. This was utter ignorance on the side of the electrol commission as they didn’t take into consideration that most voters, especially women and the elderly couldn’t make the same journey again to the polling sites the next day. So for Central Bougainville the incompetency of a few electrol officers had great repercussions to the outcome of the elections. Something I hope OBEC and PNGEC must look into. Many voters rights to vote, were deprieved. That is why high number of ballot papers coming in from very remote polling venues raise great suspicion, and especially when the ballots look like they’ve been written by only one person and there are no informal ballots. Because comparing it to the urban sites, there were quite a number of informal ballots from the urban boxes.

Reports and surveys coming in from around the island say that not many people voted. The total number of people who voted against the total number of eligible voters is very low. I guess lower than the cut off percentage required in an election.

This is already a failed election. From the current counting centre it seems like 79 thousand Bougainvillians voted. However, reports from many presiding officers say that not many people voted; some boxes having as low as 6 – 12 people who voted so how did we come up with 79 thousand ballot papers?

It seems that the whole election process was from the start corrupted by the one day polling. Plus voters rolls didn’t have names and voters were required to go back to their constituencies to vote and no postal voting. Bougainville like most rural areas can not have ‘one day voting.’ We are not urbanized like a western country. We have rugged terrain and people have to walk hours, even days to get to a polling venue. I understand this bi-election was a trial by the PNG electrol commission. Therefore, I believe the PNG Government’s motive of conducting this bi-election in Bougainville was not transparent right from the start in the Board Rooms of Port Moresby. I began writing my journey when my female (mamas) supporters asked where their votes had gone. I’m seeing that this question is just the tip of the ice berg, there is so so so much to be addressed or exposed in this whole electrol process or system in PNG and Bougainville.

More to come. For a better upcoming 2022 PNG National Election and 2025 AROB elections. This 1 day polling system is ‘useless’ and must not be used in the 2022 National Elections (Especially for a whole province, as I believe it was already trialled in other parts of PNG). Because if it is used, I already see major problems arising in this beautiful Nation. And lastly, please don’t keep using Bougainville as a testing groud for new formulars and systems.”

The END!

Note: this is Llane Munau’s personal account, and it’s subjective. That should be kept in mind when reading.

For part one of Llane’s story, click this link below:

Published by Academia Nomad

Blogs on politics, economics and social issues in simple language.

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