The Chair of the Bougainville Referendum Commission, Hon Bertie Ahern, has assured people that the BRC will use the six-week extension provided by the two governments to produce a better Referendum Roll.
“We will use these precious few weeks wisely, and we ask for public support to make this Referendum Roll as inclusive as possible and one that people can trust,” Mr Ahern said.
On Friday 2 August the two governments of Papua New Guinea and Bougainville formally announced a six-week extension to create a more credible referendum roll, and encouraged Bougainvilleans to use the time to make sure they were enrolled.
The revised dates are as follows:
• 27 September: Issue of Writs
• 23 November: Polling begins
The BRC Chair reaffirmed the governments’ decision that there would be no further extensions. “The referendum will be held this year,” Mr Ahern said.
The six week extension also means that those who will be 18 years of age or older by the first day of polling (now 23 November) can also enrol. In Bougainville, people can visit regional BRC centres in Buka, Arawa and Buin to enrol.
The short extension will allow for the creation of a more comprehensive referendum roll, especially through the three-week public display of the preliminary roll in September in all Wards in Bougainville. During this third phase of enrolment, people can check that their names are included and correct, and complete an enrolment form if needed.
People can also check the other names enrolled in their Ward, and challenge them if they consider that person not eligible to vote.
“Everyone wants a good referendum roll. The two governments, leaders, the community, and the BRC. Everyone also wants the referendum to be held as soon as possible – and we are working hard to achieve both these tasks,” Mr Ahern said.
“We believe a quality, credible and inclusive roll is the foundation of a quality, credible and inclusive referendum. While there is no perfect roll, and that is the universal experience of elections and referendum around the world and in PNG, we’d like to produce the best one that we can.”
“It is the Commission’s view that this extension will give us time to complete two critical tasks that both the public and leaders have demanded of us: enrolling Bougainvilleans in hard to reach locations, and extending of the public display period to three weeks so that Bougainvilleans have the time to thoroughly check the preliminary roll ahead of the issuing of Writs.”
The Commission has previously extended enrolment for Bougainvilleans living in Bougainville, PNG and those four overseas locations in Solomon Islands and Australia. Recently staff travelled to enrol Bougainvilleans living and working in remote mining and agricultural settlements in PNG – Lihir Island, Porgera, Ramu and Ok Tedi.
Mr Ahern said that the Commission was aware of the need for the referendum to be held to a higher standard of inclusion and quality than a normal electoral process.
“THERE IS NO EXTERNAL PRESSURE AND THERE ARE NO HIDDEN AGENDAS. WE WANT TO DELIVER THE REFERENDUM AS SOON AS POSSIBLE THIS YEAR, WE UNDERSTAND OTHERS DO TOO – BUT THE VOTE IS TOO IMPORTANT AND TOO SIGNIFICANT TO TAKE SHORT CUTS AT THIS POINT,” MR AHERN SAID.
The revised referendum timeline for 23 November polling is now as follows:
* Ongoing Enrolment Services via BRC Regional Offices: Ongoing till 27 September
* Preliminary Referendum Roll display: 31 August
* Issue Writ/Roll Closes to New Enrolments & Transfers: 27 September
* Polling schedule display: mid October to early November
* Registration of interest groups closes: early November
* Polling period starts: 23 November
* Counting period starts: early December
* Results declaration and return of Writ: mid December
* Petition period: For a period of 40 days following the Return of the Writ