Mining and referendum key focus in Bougainville poll
A former Bougainville president says a possible resumption of mining and the independence referendum will be the focus in the province's elections next month.
The Bougainville electoral commissioner, George Manu, says nine people will contest the presidency for the autonomous Papua New Guinea province at next month's election.
They include the incumbent, John Momis, and two former military leaders in the Bougainville Revolutionary Army, Sam Kauona and Ishmael Toroama.
Another is former speaker of the ABG, Nick Peniai, former PNG MP for Central Bougainville, Sam Akoitai and lawyer Reuben Siara, who also ran in 2010.
Campaigning is now underway for the poll to be held over two weeks starting from May 11th.
One man not standing this time is James Tanis, who was president for two years from 2008 to 2010 and has contested all 3 previous elections for the post.
He spoke with Don Wiseman about the key issues this group of candidates will have to confront.
JAMES TANIS: I think, listening to the public and listening to the candidates, two key issues that are going to be hot on the campaign agenda will be the referendum and mining issues. In terms of the referendum, so far what I am hearing on the candidates is that all the candidates seem committed to ensuring a successful referendum is conducted on Bougainville, and so far I have heard -- including President Momis -- saying they are committed to Bougainville's independence through a referendum, so there seems not much difference between the candidates so far. The other issue that will be high on the agenda is the Panguna mine and the recent mining bill that has been passed by the Bougainville government, and again on that mining bill I see no big difference. I think none of the candidates so far has been vocal against the reopening of the mining industry, where they differ might be on the strategies.
DON WISEMAN: And as you say the mining bill has become law just a matter of a couple of weeks ago, and the government says 'it's made by man and can be changed by man' so that if there are issues people can alter it.
JT: Yes, and this is the Bougainville society, there's always a lot of flexibility on our leaders in terms of politics, and even in terms of rebuilding and lawmaking.
DW: You said that there's no real difference among the candidates on this issue of the referendum. Do you mean they're all supporting independence for Bougainville?
JT: They are all supporting a referendum and so far of all the candidates I have heard speak in public, including President Momis, they all speak in support of independence. Where they might differ a little bit is on the timing, some might think they'll get into the presidency and conduct a referendum as soon as possible, whereas President Momis has already made a commitment that a possible conduct of the referendum will be in 2019 and that he has done against the backdrop of what Bougainville needs to do in terms of meeting the conditions that are set out in the peace agreement to ensure that the referendum is successful.
DW: The generally accepted final date had been 2018, hadn't it? But it's been put back another year.
JT: Yes, I think that 2019 is the year that I'm hearing on the commitments that have been made, but there will be candidates that will be saying that they want it as soon as possible, maybe 2015, 2016 or 2017. But this is still early in terms of campaigning and we are yet to know more of what the candidates are going to tell the people.
DW: So when you say that all the candidate's that you've heard are supporting independence, what's your feeling about the general population? Does everyone back that idea?
JT: The feeling that I am getting from the people is that, most of the people that I talk to, are in support of independence and people are also very careful on how we maneuver and how we get there. Because what is strong in terms of the people is that people would not want the resumption of armed conflict, resumption of violence, whether that is related to referendum or whether that is related to elections. People have had enough and they want to move ahead successfully and steadily.
DW: There are still reports that we get of various groups of meekamui who don't seem very supportive of what the ABG has been doing?
JT: So far on three days this week I attended the nominations of candidates, in central Bougainville, in Arawa in which president Momis attended, and there was a delegation that came down from Panguna supporting the process, supporting the president, supporting the candidates to make sure we move on with the elections smoothly. There is already a lot of new developments coming up in Panguna in terms of giving their support to the ABG, because what they know is that there is no other way out. Bougainville needs to move ahead with implementing the peace agreement and conduct a referendum so that the question of Bougainville independence is put to rest once and for all.
To embed this content on your own webpage, cut and paste the following: