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Rivals ready to back the new Bougainville leader

Residents hold a Bougainville flag at a polling station during a non-binding independence referendum in Arawa, on the Papua New Guinea island of Bougainville, 26 November 2019 (Photo: Reuters/Melvin Levongo). Sketched by the Pan Pacific Agency.

PORT MORESBY, Sep 24, 2020, RNZ. The last person to be eliminated in the Bougainville presidential race, Peter Tsiamalili, says the new leader has his full support, Radio New Zealand reported.

Ishmael Toroama became president-elect of the autonomous Papua New Guinea region yesterday after an election process that began in early August.

He will be sworn in tomorrow.

Tsiamalili, who is now a businessman on Bougainville after heading the PNG Sports Foundation, said he was happy with the outcome of the contest.

He said the people had spoken and it was up to everyone to get behind the president.

“This is the leader that the majority have put their mark on. I am happy and I will support our new president.

“You know in every competition there can only be one winner, as they always say, and I remain positive,” he said

“[Mr Toroama] In his statement, he said he had put out an olive branch to all those candidates that have run in this presidential race, and I think that is a good gesture.”

Peter Tsiamalili was critical of comments made last week by the retiring president, John Momis, that some candidates in the election were using intimidatory tactics.

Mr Tsiamalili said if Mr Momis had evidence he should have put it before the public, instead of airing his views in the international media.

By showing his battle scars Bougainville’s new leader was able to convince the people he’s the one to lead them to independence from Papua New Guinea.

That’s the view of another candidate in the presidential race, Sam Maiha.

He grew up alongside Ishmael Toroama, both of them the sons of Methodist ministers, trained by the same Tongan spiritual advisor.

Maiha said “there’s some who believe God was with him and he’s the one Good has chosen to lead Bougainville.

“He’s a kind of a hero. He’s got scars all over him and he didn’t need that much to convince the people that he was the one who fought for the island and fought for them.”

“Even to me he’s my hero too,” he said.

Sam Maiha calls Toroama his brother and said he is ready and willing to help and advise him in his new role.

An ally of Toroama’s who also ran in the presidential election, Martin Miriori, said his win is hugely significant.

He said it has returned control of the region to the groups that headed the drive for independence in the 1990s, the freedom fighters.

‘He’s going to signal a lot of things, especialy in regard to the referendum vote,” he said.

“He will definitely bring with him a decisive leadership that we will need, and the rest of us, all we can do, is we can support him, especially the former BIG/BRA [Bougainville Interim Government/Bougainville Revolutionary Army] side.”

Miriori was the secretary of the BIG during the conflict.

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