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Voting Under Way In Tokelau Self-Govt Ballot


Voting under way in UN-monitored ballot on self-government for Tokelau

Voting has begun in the referendum to determine whether Tokelau, a group of three small and isolated atolls in the Pacific Ocean, should have self-government in free association with New Zealand, the team of United Nations observers monitoring the ballot has reported.

Some 63 people cast their ballots on Saturday in Apia, Samoa, where many Tokelauans live, and the voting process has now shifted to Tokelau's three atolls - Fakaofo, Nukunonu and Atafu.

Electoral officials and the five-member team of UN monitors left Apia by boat on Saturday night, arriving 32 hours later at Tokelau to allow locals to start voting. The final results are expected to be announced on Wednesday.

It is the second time in less than two years that Tokelauans are voting to determine whether the Non-Self-Governing Territory, which has been administered by New Zealand since 1926, should have self-government in free association with New Zealand.

About 60 per cent of voters backed that option in a referendum held in February 2006, which did not meet the two-thirds majority required by Tokelau's representative body, the General Fono.

The UN observers said 789 people are eligible to vote in this referendum, an increase of 23 per cent on the previous referendum. Officials from Tokelau and New Zealand have cited greater information about the process and the recent attainment of adulthood by many young Tokelauans - voters must be aged over 18 - as the main reasons for the spike in numbers.

Ambassador Robert Aisi of Papua New Guinea, a representative of the Special Committee on Decolonization, and a member of the UN observer team, welcomed the efforts of referendum organizers to improve the balloting process.

The changes include a new version of the voting booth that allows elderly or infirm voters to have more privacy when casting their ballot at home or in hospital, and a new lightweight, waterproof and better secured ballot box to ensure the reconciliation of ballot papers issued with those found inside the box at the count.

Mr. Aisi stressed that the UN's role is only to monitor the polling process and report whether it is credible and transparent.

"It is a decision of the Tokelauan people to decide what the next course of action will be," he said. "The United Nations has played a supportive role, and we hope to continue to play a supportive role, whatever the outcome of the referendum."

If Tokelauans achieve the two-thirds majority during this referendum, a date will then be set for a "day of self-government." This will probably be in mid-2008 to allow New Zealand enough time to make the necessary legislative amendments.

There are currently 16 Non-Self-Governing Territories remaining on the UN's decolonization list, compared to 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 its independence in 2002 and joined the UN that same year.

ENDS

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