After five electoral cycles, Bougainville has proven its political and social will to conduct peaceful elections. Recognizing the historic importance of the 2020 general elections, voters held high expectations for a well-planned and successfully executed election as they turned out to elect the body that will negotiate the region’s independence from PNG. Moreover, the elections presented an opportunity to support greater political participation of women and promote their inclusion in the process for independence.
The new coronavirus pandemic impacted international travel, resulting in limited international election observation and heightening the need for citizen observation and promoting election integrity. Leading the largest domestic observation effort, the Bougainville Women’s Federation (BWF) trained and deployed 26 non-partisan citizen observers to 127 polling stations across the Autonomous Region of Bougainville (AROB) to monitor voting processes, participation of women and implementation of government guidelines on preventing the spread of COVID-19. The BWF observers also conducted interviews with 181 community leaders, candidates and election officials and collected data on incidents of violence against women.
Conducting an election during the COVID-19 pandemic, in a region already challenged by limited infrastructure and financial resources, is a commendable achievement. Yet, issues pertaining to election administration remain to be addressed as they affect public confidence in the election process. Despite some progress in women’s political participation, concerns over women’s ability to fully participate in the electoral process as voters, candidates, or polling officials—free from threats and intimidation from their immediate family or clan—persist. These factors make the country’s path to independence more challenging. Concerted efforts are needed to improve institutional capacity to conduct elections and create a functional, pluralistic, representative, and inclusive political system to meet citizens’ expectations and set Bougainville on a clear path to becoming the world’s newest democratic country. The role of civil society will remain crucial in Bougainville’s road to peaceful and inclusive negotiations for independence. The election observation was part of BWF’s continuous efforts to advocate to stakeholders including political actors that women should be included as equal participants in all aspects of the electoral process, free from the fear of violence.
BWF presents in this report the key findings of its observation and recommendations to facilitate active and meaningful participation of women in building a peaceful and democratic Bougainville.