Bougainville. Papua New Guinea press review
The Autonomous Region of Bougainville (ARB) will soon host the largest and most open presidential race in history. Particular attention is drawn to the elections in view of the fact that the new President of the ARB will be negotiating the results of last year’s referendum on the independence of Bougainville, which was supported by about 98% of the ARB population. There’re some expectations that the referendum will be ratified by the National Parliament of Papua New Guinea (PNG) by September 2020. Elections in Bougainville will begin on the 12th of August 2020. The current ARB President, John Momis, wanted to be re-elected for a third term, but under the ARB Constitution, the president can only serve two terms of five years.
Among the participants in the presidential race are a number of high-ranking candidates, such as Joe Lera, who resigned from Bougainville’s representative seat in the PNG National Parliament to participate in the ARB presidential election. Mr. Lera wants an integrated plan for economic development, with an emphasis on sustainable development in agriculture, fishing, and tourism.
Martin Miriori is the older brother of Bougainville’s first President, Joseph Kabui is also run in the election. Mr. Miriori was Secretary of the Bougainville Interim Government during the crisis, later becoming a diplomat and was closely involved in the negotiations over the peace agreement. Mr. Miriori is also from central Bougainville, near Panguna, the long-closed mine at the centre of the region’s crisis in the 1990s: «Panguna is the option that we have for Bougainville to be able to achieve its fiscal self-reliance. Panguna will fund development but first, we have to achieve our political independence, » Mr. Miriori said.
One of the candidates for the ARB presidency became James Tanis, who has been president before, for 18 months from late 2008, following the death of Joseph Kabui. He is the leader of Mr. Kabui’s People’s Congress Party and played an important role throughout the last 25 years in Bougainville. For this candidate, the emphasis is on ‘Bougainville is accepted by the current national and international community as an independent State’.
There are also two former commanders in the Bougainville Revolutionary Army (BRA) in the election – Sam Kauona and Ishmael Toroama. It’s important to mark, that Mr. Toroama coming a distant second to the current ARB President John Momis in 2015. Mr. Toroama puts a focus on the Bougainville Peace Agreement and its requirement that governments are transparent and accountable, that the rule of law is properly in place, and that people’s human rights are realised. He said ending lawlessness would allow investment in so the economy could be developed.
At the same time, two of the 25 candidates are women. One, Ruby Mirinka, was a Member of the Bougainville Referendum Commission and had long been involved in the Healthy Communities project. The other is Madeleine Toroansi, who has already been in Parliament, holds the central Bougainville women’s seat after the first autonomous election in 2005. Ms. Toroansi is a former diplomat and more recently has been working at the grassroots in Bougainville villages, focusing on peacebuilding. According to Ms. Toroansi, this work shows that governance in Bougainville is ineffective: «Because I saw it at the ground level in the community because I live in the village, live a village life and I feel the way the people feel, » she said.
An atypical candidate is Peter Tsiamalili, the son of a diplomat and former Bougainville administrator, and most recently he headed the PNG Sports Foundation. He was just a child when the civil war broke out, and observed most of it from afar, as his father was forced out of Bougainville, leading to him taking employment with the PNG Foreign Service and to rolls around the world. Currently, Peter Tsiamalili has close links with Bougainville now, with significant investment in cocoa production. For him, unity is the key and the way to achieve this is through agriculture.
The Bougainville elections were also attended by Sam Maiha, former Head of the PNG Weather Service, Nick Peniai, who’s been an MP, Andrew Miriki who was Bougainville Speaker, as well as Fidelis Semoso, who has been a cabinet minister in both Port Moresby and Buka, is also running
At the same time, Thomas Raivet, who most recently served as Bougainville’s Chief Secretary, received strong support from current ARB President John Momis. According to Mr. Momis, while lacking political experience, Mr. Raivethas acquired skills through his army training while his Christian faith will show him the right path. Mr. Momis is hoping to still be involved in the next government with Mr. Raivet promising to make him a special envoy to lead the negotiations on the referendum 2019. [1-2]
It is worth noting that before the elections, Bougainville is increasing its vigilance to counter the proliferation of COVID-19. Bougainville’s Police Chief, Francis Tokura, is pleading with travelers into the region to be mindful of the COVID-19 restrictions in place. This is also due to the fact that last week two cases of COVID-19 were reported in the capital of Papua New Guinea, Port Moresby, within 48 hours. Mr. Tokura, who has been overseeing Bougainville’s COVID-19 State of Emergency, saying the risk level throughout the country is very high. He said people must observe social distancing, particularly with the autonomous region heading into an election. Meanwhile, Mr. Tokura’s assistant, Secretary of Health Clement Totavun, said surveillance was being beefed up at Buka airport to monitor arrivals. Two weeks ago, Bougainville extended the State of Emergency for another two months. [3-4]