Women eye cabinet positions after Bougainville election

by Michael Taylor | @MickSTaylor | Thomson Reuters Foundation
Wednesday, 23 September 2020 08:44 GMT

FILE PICTURE: A voter from Selau is seen at Buka market, Bougainville, Papua New Guinea, November 30, 2019. Picture taken November 30, 2019. Bougainville Referendum Commission/Jeremy Miller/Handout via REUTERS

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Female candidates match the four seats won in 2015, with the new president urged to include more women in cabinet

By Michael Taylor

Sept 23 (Thomson Reuters Foundation) - Women will retain 10% of parliamentary seats after an election in the South Pacific archipelago of Bougainville and will push the new president to appoint more women to cabinet roles, analysts said on Wednesday.

The two-week general election held in August was the first since autonomous Bougainville, which has a 250,000 population, voted for independence from Papua New Guinea (PNG) in late 2019.

The Bougainville House of Representatives is made up of 33 'open' constituencies seats, three 'reserved' seats for women, and three seats set aside for ex-combatants.

A record number of women candidates contested this year's poll, matching a "milestone" election for women's political representation in 2015 when four female candidate won seats in total, and one woman became the first to win an 'open' seat.

"There's a total of four women in this new House of Representatives," Adriana Schmidt, media director for the Bougainville government, told the Thomson Reuters Foundation by email.

Bougainville is in a region with one of the lowest levels of women's political participation in the world, with PNG one of three nations in the world with no female lawmakers.

Bougainville has made slow progress in addressing the issue after the end of its decade-long civil war in 1998.

In this year's poll, 14 female candidates ran for 'open' seats, while 27 women were vying for the three 'reserved' seats for women, and two running for president.

Former rebel military commander Ishmael Toroama was elected as president.

"Overall I think it's a positive outcome for women's representation," said Shane McLeod, a research fellow in the Pacific islands program at the Lowy Institute in Sydney.

"While the representation share hasn't increased, the success of women campaigning and getting elected demonstrates of the value of having the reserved seats in the Bougainville House of Representatives."

McLeod said the trend of young people being elected was also evident among female candidates and this was an "enormous opportunity" for them to go on to long political careers.

Kerryn Baker, a research fellow at the Australian National University and an expert in electoral reform and women's political representation in the Pacific islands, said it was encouraging to see the next generation of leaders come through.

But she said the next step after getting women elected in 'open' seats was to increase the number of women ministers. Previously the only one was Josephine Getsi, the minister for community development, who failed to win re-election this year.

"There will be a significant push now to see more than one women appointed as a minister, but we will have to wait and see what happens as the new president comes in and appoints his executive team," Baker said.

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(Reporting by Michael Taylor @MickSTaylor; Editing by Belinda Goldsmith Please credit the Thomson Reuters Foundation, the charitable arm of Thomson Reuters, that covers the lives of people around the world who struggle to live freely or fairly. Visit http://news.trust.org)

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