A referendum on independence from PNG may be held sometime in the next five years. But, there has been a slow start to voting in the PNG Autonomous Region of Bougainville.
Presenter: Geraldine Coutts
Speaker: Liam Fox, Papua New Guinea correspondent
FOX: Well, I guess I came to Bougainville expecting the usual PNG craziness at election times, like lots of colour, movement, literal pork barrelling, where pigs are being handed out left, right and centre, seeing that fear and a lot of tension between supporters of rival candidates. But it is the exact opposite here in Bougainville. It has all been very peaceful and calm and orderly and relaxed. We heard just before about problems with the shortage of ballot papers, there have also been problems with people not being on election rolls. I understand there are two election rolls, and old one and a new one out at the polling booths, and some people are not on one and they have to be asked to move onto another polling booth. But people have all been taking it in their stride. There has been no tension, no frustration. It's all been very peaceful. And the first few days, it was also quite slow. There was a low turnout of voters in those early days.
COUTTS: Now, why do you think that it is quiet and calm as distinct from its history, is it because this is what the people really want?
FOX: Yes, and I think locals have told us that that is not just the way the usual stereotype we have at PNG elections, it's not just the way it is done here in Bougainville. There isn't that great deal of tension between rival supporters or tension that can flare into violence anyway. They do it their own way and that seems to be a very calm and peaceful way.
COUTTS: And there have been unconfirmed reports of ballot boxes being hijacked. Are you seeing any evidence of that or hearing about that?
FOX: I spoke to a senior police officer who is involved in providing, ensuring security during the election and he said basically the same thing that a fellow from Yadoun said that no, that is not true, that is the claim made by one of the presidential candidates and these things can always be investigated afterwards and taken to disputed returns.
COUTTS: Now you have been to Panguna, which is the seat of the problems for Bougainville. What did you see there?
FOX: Well once again, orderly voting. We went to one polling booth within the mine site and yeah orderly polling, slow turnout. We spoke to one of the candidates for one of the seats that has been set aside for ex-combatants and he said the fact that voting is taking place in Panguna is a real sign that the peace process is working. Interestingly though, we did speak to Chris Uma now he is the self-appointed general of the Mekamui defence force, which is the successor and remnants of the Bougainville Revolutionary Army and he's the man that has opened up Panguna, both in voting and to foreign election observers and he said that it's his preferred presidential candidate. which is James Tanis, isn't re-elected as president, he will shutdown Panguna again and close the Morgan Junction roadblock to outsiders. He believes he has formed a bit of a relationship with James Tanis that has enabled him to come into the peace process over the last few months and he sees eye-to-eye with James Tanis and if he is not re-elected, everything goes backwards.