Bougainville. Papua New Guinea press review

After more than half a year, the first case of COVID-19 was detected in the Autonomous Region of Bougainville (ARB). It’s the student who travelled from Port Moresby. According to the Bougainville Administration, the student is recovering but will be taken into the isolated camp at Suhin (Buka Island, Northern part of Bougainville). The Bougainville health response team had further taken immediate action for isolation of the case and started contact tracing. The contacts would include all passengers who were on the same flight as the patient and others he may have come into contact with since his arrival in Bougainville. [1-2]

At the same time, on the 11th of August 2020, the 50 days of campaigning for the 2020 ARB Presidential and Parliamentary election was closed. The election started on the 12th of August. The 21 days of polling ends on Tuesday, the 1st of September. Counting starts the next day on Wednesday (the 2nd of September) and will run for 14 days, ending on the 14th of September. The inauguration of the fourth ARB president will take place on the 16th of September. There were no reports of incidents at the campaign locations on the peaceful campaigns of the candidates during the last 50 days. [3]

440 candidates are contesting the 40 seats in the ARB Parliament, including 25 contesting the Presidency. The 2020 election has been called the most important election yet for Bougainville because the core role for the next Parliament will be negotiating the outcome from last year’s Referendum, in which 98% of Bougainvilleans voted for the independence from Papua New Guinea. Many candidates are expecting a drawn-out process in the negotiations. One expert on conflict resolution said similar processes have taken up to 10 years.

A large number of candidates for the ARB Presidency is due to the resign of John Morris, who wanted to contest for a third term, but the PNG Supreme Court ruled this would contravene the Bougainville Constitution. But other candidates, like James Tanis, who was president from 2008 to 2010, said the large numbers were not an issue and the candidates sometimes campaigned together. While there were three seats reserved for women, there were two women running for the presidency for the first time, and a number of women contesting open seats. Community worker, Marilyn Havini said she had the impression attitudes were changing towards women as political leaders, not only amongst women voters, but men too, and she expects women could take open seats.

At the same time, the Bougainville economy isn’t in good shape. Both the PNG and Bougainville governments have talked about the huge disparity between what the region generates for the national coffers and what would be required if it became independent. It is for these reasons that there is strong support from many of the candidates for the re-opening of the controversial Panguna mine, but others are saying the landowner issues around the mine first need to be sorted. For example, there is a strong commitment from Thomas Raivet to ensure the landowners make the decisions over whether or not mining be allowed. Some candidates want to stay away from mining and instead focus on what Bougainville has successfully done in the past, in terms of agriculture, cocoa, copra, fishing or tourism. [4-5]

In turn, Bougainville Electoral Commissioner George Manu paid attention to the problem of logistics. According to Mr Manu, it is a massive challenge especially when it comes to logistical operation of remote island atolls and the mountain communities, but the Commission is trying it’s very best to ensure that every Bougainvillean is counted. «We have received complaints of some people not locating their names on the Electoral Roll. To address this, I have instructed my Returning Officers and Assistant Returning Officers that there will be a Supplementary Roll, » Mr Manu added. [6]

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