By Leonard Fong Roka
A group of young boys fighting over a dish of rice and tinned fish was my first insight into the election campaign strategies and the many issues that face Baubake Constituency in South Bougainville.
The Baubake Constituency seems to have the largest population in the Buin District and for the 2015 Bougainville General Election eight energetic people, (in ballot paper order) Steven Kopana, Jonathan Komba, John Pookey Sigere, Charles Laia, Joseph Buia, Paul Bakoi, Joseph Tooke and Thomas Joseph Lugabai, are contesting the seat.
Around the clock the vying candidates made every attempt to get the people to vote them into the next Autonomous Bougainville Government that this election will produce. Their campaign was a night and day affair as they travelled the constituency from end to end.
At Kanauro Village, where I am stationed, candidates crisscrossed every day outlining all the positive changes they intend to bring to the Bougainville Parliament if mandated, for the good of the Baubake Constituency and Bougainville as a whole.
In Baubake the candidates and the Baubake people are two contrasting groups and there is this societal outlook that can help understand the types of people Bougainville has here.
There is a growing population of Baubake citizens that are now rising above the water of poverty in the post-crisis period. There are also many high profile educated professionals here, an inevitable result of the large population.
The constituency has many social issues including alcohol related violence; a lack of well-established income earning opportunities for the villages and a notably low standard of living from a modern perspective.
People mostly make their living through cocoa farming, some fishing along the coast and, for a lot of the women, marketing their garden produce in Buin Town and local markets within the villages.
In most areas fewer and fewer students turn out to attend schools, whilst a growing number decide to remain in the village with their parents, a result of a need to solve immediate financial difficulties and a lack of parental guidance.
During the election campaign candidates touched briefly on these issues, though most election debate was centred on Bougainville-wide issues, like the referendum and the political future of the region.
One thing unique is that the citizens of Baubake are not easily lured by political figures; here the all the people, from kids up to adults, pay little heed to such figures or talks around their villages.
The Baubake communities are only interested in their daily survival.
It was the candidates that have to track down the people. At Kanauro Village, where I am residing, candidates provided free dinners to those who would be attending their gatherings. Small village business men benefited, as well as the women that were told to cook for little allowances in various sections of the massive villages.
Other candidates with the financial capacity provided free transport for the public on Saturdays, the peak day of Buin people’s town visits. People benefit by saving their hard earned cash by travelling free from their villages to town and back.
One of the strongest forms of campaigning in Baubake was for candidates to do house to house visits. Whenever gatherings for candidates were arranged hardly any people attended, thus candidates have to hunt for people to listen to their political ambitions and strategies for them and Bougainville.