The Guardian 20 July, 2005

"A new Bougainville
with a new generation at its helm"

"It was a very special time; a lot of people had tears in their eyes as the flag went up just as sunrise was breaking through from the Eastern horizon", said Moses Havini, describing the birth of the Autonomous Bougainville. Representatives and friends from Papua New Guinea and the international community joined the people of Bougainville in celebrations from June 14-16 as they raised the flag and inaugurated the swearing-in of members the first Autonomous Government of Bougainville.

"I was lost for words, a bit choked as well with tears; to sit there and realise that all our work, however long it took, was finally worth it", wrote Moses Havini after the ceremony. Mr Havini, who was the Bougainville representative in Australia, returned to Bougainville towards the end of May to observe the elections and assist with the formation of the new government. On board the same flight as him were the last of the "international observers" flying in to observe and monitor the historic Bougainville elections.

The "all our work" he refers to has its origins in an independence struggle dating back three decades or more, including the forced closure of the Bougainville Copper mine at Panguna by angry landowners in 1989, then 10 years of war followed by eight years of reconciliation and difficult negotiations. This resulted in the Papua New Guinea government ratifying a new constitution for Bougainville, giving it autonomy and providing for a referendum on full independence within 10-15 years.

Historically, geographically, culturally and ethnically Bougainville is linked with the Solomon Islands. Its attachment to Papua New Guinea is a legacy of 19th and 20th century carve-ups of the region by colonial powers. (See Guardian 1-6-05 for more background information.)

So when voting began on May 20 for a president and 39 other members of the new house of representatives it was a very emotional occasion with memories of the hardships of war and the loss of life and suffering that took place, and as Mr Havini said, the realisation that it was "finally worth it".

On arrival, Mr Havini proceeded immediately to Gnalkobul, his home village, on Buka Island, to the north of Bougainville to be welcomed by his clan.

"Whilst at home in Gnalkobul I did my usual 'bush/forest inspection' accompanied by the men of the clan. I also used the 'digi walker' to measure the distances from the village to all the important 'landmarks' right up to the head of the land. From the village on the coast to the interior is nearly 8 km — quite a distance, I must say. We cleared a spot on the headland where we will plant some fruit trees to mark the area, and possibly the second settlement/village for our clan to expand and use the land.

"Along the way, we heard some dogs barking, apparently hot on the trail of wild boars as we could hear them squealing from the track. So Hihis broke away from our party to check the dogs. He walked straight into the chase as the dogs cornered the pig against the roots of a giant tree and he completed the hunt with his machete. He waited for the owner of the dogs to turn up to hand over the kill, but guess what?

"These packs of dogs were wild dogs hunting on their own as they took off immediately as soon as they saw Hihis. So all the families were all shocked when we came home with some meat for the farewell party! The party went very well, speeches and lots of tucker."

Long-awaited occasion

Polling commenced as scheduled and international observers were posted in all major centres of Bougainville, observing and monitoring the election. These included Australia, New Zealand, the United Nations and members of Pacific Islands governments. The Head of the Observer Mission was a representative from the Fiji government.

"This was an occasion that the people had been long waiting for — to exercise their democratic rights in electing representatives to their own Legislature. As a result of this the people literally voted with their feet. They turned up in their hundreds to their respective polling stations to caste their votes. The excitement was infectious…", said Mr Havini in a letter from Bougainville.

"The people and their Chiefs in effect were in total control of the polling, from beginning to end. Each candidate was given a fair hearing despite unsubstantiated rumours of 'vote buying' by some well-heeled candidates."

New President

Joseph Kabui, the leader of the Bougainville Peoples Congress Party (BPCP) was elected with an outright majority and convincing lead of almost 15,000 over his nearest rival John Momis (37,928 to 22,970 votes). The other three candidates were far behind, the most successful of them receiving only 2710 votes.

Mr Momis had resigned as a regional MP for Bougainville in the PNG Parliament just weeks before the Bougainville election writs were issued, and formed his Bougainville First Party, believing that the electorate was on his side. He had been the Bougainville MP in the PNG parliament for 33 years. (The BPCP was formed in response to Momis's formation of the Bougainville First party.)

Whereas Mr Kabui had only stood for one provincial government election in 1988 which he won from a Momis-backed candidate for the premiership of the then "North Solomons Province". While a "rookie" in elections, he was close to his people, having played a leading role in the war and negotiations that followed, never letting up in his pursuit of an independent Bougainville.

As Momis was lagging behind and never managing to catch up to Kabui, serious allegations began to be raised from his camp that there was "vote rigging" going on in Central Bougainville, where Kabui comes from.

Even before the counting ended, the PNG government, unannounced, dispatched its official government plane, the Kumul 1 with three lawyers to Bougainville to start digging up dirt on Kabui. This immediately caused a widespread stir in Bougainville that the "PNG Government" was now interfering in Bougainville matters. The Administrator was so furious that he publicly made his disappointment known to the PNG government. The Prime Minister Sir Michael Somare replied that, as far as he was concerned, he could land his plane anywhere he liked. The Administrator responded by saying, he could land his plane on the moon if he wanted to, but on Bougainville authorities had to be informed first.

Following the election, Mr Momis claimed that he was wrongly robbed of the "presidency" but, discredited by the helicopter incident, has since pulled back from challenging the results and handed over leadership of his party to the member for Tonsu, Izekiel Mazat.

Observers praise election conduct

The Report of the Polling presented by the international observers to the PNG government confirmed that, this was the most trouble-free and most orderly poll they have observed in a long while. This Report was presented to the PNG Prime Minister, Sir Michael Somare as true and accurate.

There were some difficulties with many eligible voters not being registered and roadblocks in one area preventing voters reaching polls.

The incomplete registration of voters has its roots in historical events caused by the war and PNG's decade-long blockade of Bougainville and lack of realisation by many people that they were not on the new post-war register. Steps are being taken to rectify this for future elections.

The roadblocks, however, were erected by the Mekamui Faction headed by long-time fighter for independence, recluse Francis Ona, who although remaining outside the election process, did allow people to proceed to the polling booths towards the end of voting.

In true Bougainville tradition, Mr Ona and the Mekamui Faction have been given their due respect and are being encouraged to "remove the roadblocks" so that services such as schools, health, etc, could be provided in their area.

"Our leaders however swallowed hard, to forgive this kind of immature behaviour by Francis Ona and his so-called Mekamui government. Our leaders understood that one has the right to choose whether to vote or not to vote, but not to prevent others from doing so", said Mr Havini.

Grand coalition

BPCP members were elected to 35 of the 40 seats (including presidency), giving Mr Kabui a substantial majority.

Following the elections, Mr Mazat, the new leader of the New Bougainville Party told a press conference that his party was ready to work under President Kabui with all newly elected members of the Autonomous Bougainville Government.

Mr Kabui welcomed the New Bougainville Party to the fold and said he was willing to work with all elected members. He said this new development is a victory for the people of Bougainville. He also announced his intention to run the Autonomous Bougainville Government as a grand coalition.

As of midnight Thursday June 9, 2005, the Interim Bougainville Provincial Government ceased to exist. The Swearing-In Ceremony of the President and a Care-taker Cabinet was conducted in Arawa, Central Bougainville on Friday June 10, 2005.

Traditional Initiation Ceremony

Moses writes: "The Swearing-In Ceremony on June 10 was two-fold.

"There was first of all a 'Traditional Initiation Ceremony' performed on the president-elect, by the Lavele Clan [his wife Rose's clan]; called the 'Poma Traditional Ceremony', where a Chief is officially installed.

"This gathering was empowering the new President of Bougainville with a traditional, chiefly mandate, his traditional power to be a leader of Bougainville."

"He was adorned with traditional beroanas [shell money worn on his chest] and a kind of a hat that resembles the Upei. He then entered through a special entrance and on the ground, stood on the pig, for final empowerment."

The Upei is the symbol in the centre of the flag, a headdress used in the initiation or coming of age ceremony, unique to Bougainville. It has become a symbol of unity for Bougainville since the 1970s, as an initiation to nationhood.

"So, he is not only a Chief in his own clan but also a Chief in his wife's clan, with a wide mandate to lead the new Autonomous Government", said Mr Havini.

"This is unheard of recognition by a 'tambu' [in-law] clan, to receive him as their own chief, for him to be respected in a much closer way than one can ever be to a 'tambu'.

"Obviously, Rose Kabui's clan are witnessing to all of Bougainville their belief in the integrity and leadership of this special individual who has been elected as the first historical President for all of Bougainville."

The second, official swearing-in ceremony, with its western electoral style mandate complemented the traditional chiefly mandate from the first traditional ceremony.

The care-taker cabinet took over governance until the full government took office 14 days later.

Historic day

The official Inauguration began on Tuesday June 14. PNG Prime Minister Sir Michael Somare attended along with other representatives from PNG, Australia, New Zealand, Fiji, Vanuatu and other Pacific Nations besides the UNOMB (United Nations Observer Mission to Bougainville) representing the United Nations.

"What can I say, but the anticipation that came from everyone you could read on their faces, was just like expecting the birth of a new baby! The participation of all the students from all the secondary schools, primary and elementary schools was just amazing. They put on a lovely show for the people in displaying the Bougainville Flag in different colours on the ground.

"It was almost like the opening of the Olympic Games in 2000 in Sydney. Besides this display, they were also displaying and running with two huge flags, about 30 kg each."

Sacred ceremonies

A couple of the MPs came in their traditional attire including Hon. Fransisca Semoso.

Semoso put together a Sole dancing group in her village at Gogohe to dance and bring her to the official dais. The Gogohe Sole dancing group in all their traditional dress did dance the Sole, and brought her right up to the official dais. She thus chose to involve and honour women during this time of celebration and not only during her polling. The Sole is part of a sacred traditional ceremony to escort a bride to a betrothal ceremony. In this case it was used to escort the elected female leader, acknowledging the role of women in Bougainville society.

The other highlight was the "UPEI group" of young boys undergoing initiation deep in the jungles of Kunua, north west Bougainville. They came days before the Inauguration, camping in the coconut plantation/bush just outside of the Hahela Catholic Mission. Once the Swearing-In Ceremony was concluded, the MPs proceeded to the Parliament House to have their First Session. They were led by this Upei group as a sign of empowerment and legitimacy.

"The final part of this ceremony was the official Swearing-In Ceremony and taking of Oath to the new Autonomous Government of Bougainville. Then there was the very impressive Police Parade and Guard of Honour, inspected by Prime Minister Somare and President Kabui. It was quite amazing to see an all 'Bougainville Police Force' … very smart and performing to the occasion." Special souvenir cards with the Bougainville flag printed on them were distributed to the international and PNG dignitaries; and all the new MPs of the House of Representatives.

"The day was concluded with lots of traditional singsings/dances, the people celebrating with much gusto and happiness."

Mr Havini described it as a "historical day for Bougainville", the "Harvest Day for Bougainville to put it in plain language".

"As we harvest the first fruits, then we must also now begin replanting the new 'gardens'."


"Our challenges will be to make sure that we plant the 'right crop' and to be very aggressive towards weeding out the 'weeds'. If we sow on 'rocky soil', i.e., a corrupt system, then we will end up in the 'pig pens'. I am going to insist that we institute more anti-corruption mechanisms."

"Well, the big challenge is that we obviously first have to find ways and means of trying to get money for Bougainville and get our policies in place and to ensure that the autonomy that we have now in place has got money to support it, to make it work. And this is funding on top of funding that is already legislated in the peace agreement come into Bougainville in the form of grants", Mr Kabui told a journalist. The government must also look at means of raising their own revenues from within Bougainville.

"Education is going to be one of our number one priorities followed up with of course health", said Mr Kabui. "Apart from that, communication is one area we will also look into … equipping all parts of Bougainville with modern communications."

Recalling the role of the students in the celebrations, Mr Havini said, "The vision that came to me was 'this is their celebration, their show, their era and this ABG is theirs'. We the 'lapuns' [old people and elders] were simply just clearing the new grounds for this 'new seed' to germinate."

"It once again re-assured me that the 'struggle had been legitimate all along' for the people to receive and to enjoy their 'human right'. It was also good for all our visitors, PNG Officials and others to see and witness that this was a 'new Bougainville with a new generation' at its helm."

Three regional seats were specifically for women. One of those, Magdalena Toroansi, is now a cabinet minister in the ABG and Francisca Semoso is deputy speaker of parliament.

"More than three-quarters of the Members of Parliament are new leaders in politics. In one sense this is a good sign. It shows the way forward, new blood and no way can they look back."

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