Bougainville: 'The wind of change has blown'

Ishmael Toroama. Photo: Facebook

"The wind of change has blown. It has arrived at your doorsteps," said Ishmael Toroama in a speech following his victory in the presidential election for the Autonomous Bougainville Government.

"All over Bougainville, people have voted for new leaders. I will lead this new group of vibrant leaders to, first of all, complete the key unfinished business, but also set a new pathway for Bougainville."

Australian peace activist Vikki John told Radio NZ on September 25: "I am over the moon that Ishmael Toroama is the new President of Bougainville. Congratulations to Ishmael and congratulations to the people of Bougainville.

"This is exactly what Bougainville needs to get their independence that they have been waiting for for a very long time."

Toroama, a former Bougainville Revolutionary Army commander, paid tribute to Bougainville liberation leaders Francis Ona and Joseph Kabui in an interview with the Post Courier, following his victory.

Just days after the election concluded, communities in Bougainville filed a human rights complaint against mining company Rio Tinto with the Australian government, over the destruction caused by its Panguna copper and gold mine.

Radio NZ reported on September 30 that the complaint ‒ on behalf of 156 Bougainville community members ‒ has been lodged by the Human Rights Law Centre in Australia.

Newly-elected MP for the district where the mine is located, Theonila Roka Matbob, is one of the community members.

Matbob told Radio NZ: "We live with the impacts of Panguna every day.

“Our rivers are poisoned with copper, our homes get filled with dust from the tailings mounds, our kids get sick from the pollution. Every time it rains more waste washes into the rivers, causing flooding for villages further downstream.

“Some communities now have to spend two hours a day walking just to get clean drinking water because their nearby creeks are clogged up with mine waste."

Toroama gave the following victory speech on September 25:

***

Thank you my people.

First of all I thank god for the wisdom, guidance and protection in making this election a safe election.

My victory is for the people who put their trust and confidence in my presidency, for without them this victory would not have been possible.

I also want to say that this victory is for those who did not vote for me, as I am your president now.

The people have clearly spoken, as there is a big gap between me and the next candidate

We conducted a clean campaign. We did not give money to the voters and we did not intimidate any voters.

People have used their god-given wisdom to vote for the right candidate.

I want to thank all of the voters from the south, to central and to north and the atols. Those around various parts of Papua New Guinea and the committee who has worked tirelessly around the clock to secure this win.

The wind of change has blown. It has arrived at your doorsteps. All over Bougainville people have voted for new leaders. I will lead this new group of  vibrant leaders to, first of all, complete the key unfinished business, but also set a new pathway for Bougainville.

To make this change happen, I will utilise the best brains available inside and outside Bougainville. We must stop pretending that we know it all. In this regard, I extend an olive branch to those who contested with me to come and work with me to make Bougainville a proud nation.

I will make a full statement in parliament about my vision and plan for Bougainville. For now, let me go and enjoy this victory with my people, the voters and the committee.

Thank you and praise be to god, through whom all things are possible.

[This article was updated on September 30.]

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