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House approves amendment bill to allow elections during SOE

The Bougainville House of Representatives has unanimously passed the Emergency Amendment Bill 2020 which allows for the ABG’s general elections to be conducted during the state of emergency period.

The bill was presented to parliament yesterday by ABG Minister for Justice and Attorney General, Ezekiel Massat.

“This amendment allows to not only deal with the emergency we face now and in the future, but to also ensure that the people’s constitutional rights to elect leaders of their own choice is also respected and is exercised, even in an emergency,” Massat said.

The Bougainville Constitution does not have the provisions to allow for an election to happen during a state of emergency period.

Initially, the ABG General Elections were planned to begin a month ago, with the issue of writ on 27 March 2020. However, due to the COVID-19 pandemic, and based on expert medical advice from the ABG Health Team and deliberations of the Election Steering Committee, the elections were deferred to a later date.

According to Office of the Bougainville Electoral Commission, the initial date of the return of writ was to happen on 08 June 2020, but due to the further extension of the State of Emergency on Bougainville for two months, the Emergency Act amendments were required to ensure that a legitimate and democratically-elected government remains in place beyond 08 June 2020, which is the legal end date of the current House.

The passing of the amendment also means that the term of the current parliament, the ABG President and the Speaker of the Bougainville House of Representatives is also extended for the length of the emergency period.

Minister Massat clarified that the extension is not being done out of self-interest and the people of Bougainville must understand that these decisions are being made based on expert advice regarding the COVID-19 situation.

“The amendment is not intended to extend our longevity. The situation we are faced with is through no fault of all the members of this House. COVID-19 is solely responsible.

“The recommendation to declare a Bougainville Emergency came from the medical sector and the Election Steering Committee. This is after the National Government had declared a national SOE,” he said.

The new section 15A of the Emergency Act reads:

15A Extension of tenure of the House of Representatives during Emergency.

During a period of a declared National Emergency, or a declared Bougainville Emergency, the House of Representatives may, by an absolute majority vote:  

(a) extend its term of office,
(b) the term of the Office of the President, and
(c) the term of the Office of the Speaker,  

for a term not exceeding the length of the period and as such time afterwards as is necessary to allow a general election to be arranged and held as the case requires.

Minister Massat said the amendment will restore public certainty about the validity of any general election which was delayed because of the Bougainville Emergency.

“I call on all members, government machinery and instruments to explain to people about the amendments. There are no hidden motives,” he said.

Parliament will resume on 09 June 2020.

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