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South Pacific voters in Tokelau head to polls

South Pacific voters in Tokelau head to polls to decide political status

Citizens of the tiny South Pacific atolls of Tokelau went to the polls for a second time today in a landmark UN-supervised referendum that could change the political status of this Non-Self-Governing Territory, which is now administered by New Zealand.

A four-person UN observer team reported that the second leg of the referendum was to take place in Atafu, one of Tokelau’s atolls, after the first day of voting in Samoa on Saturday. That ballot was for eligible Tokelauan voters who temporarily reside in Samoa.

The referendum, which will hand all of Tokelau’s 1,500 citizens a chance to vote by the time it ends on Wednesday, will give the islanders another opportunity to decide their future. Last year, the Territory’s main representative body decided to move towards “self-government in free association with New Zealand.”

Tokelau has decided that an overall majority of two-thirds of the valid votes cast would be necessary for a change in its status, according to UN officials.

Last week, a UN spokesman in New York said the observer team would be made up of four officials, including a member of the world body’s Special Committee on Decolonization and two representatives from the Electoral Assistance Division.

At the moment there are 16 Non-Self-Governing Territories left on the UN’s decolonization list, while there were 72 such territories when the Organization was established in 1945. The last Non-Self-Governing Territory that exercised the right to self-determination was East Timor, now known as Timor Leste, which gained independence in 2002.

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