Tokelau will remain a territory of New Zealand after the citizens of the three small and isolated atolls in the Pacific Ocean fell 16 votes short of gaining self-government in a United Nations-supervised referendum – the second such ballot in less than two years.
Some 446 of 692 valid votes cast during four days of balloting this week, or 64.4 per cent, backed the option for self-government in free association with New Zealand, according to results announced on Atafu, one of Tokelau’s atolls, yesterday.
This was not enough to meet the two-thirds majority required by Tokelau’s representative body, the General Fono, to change the status of the Non-Self-Governing Territory. New Zealand has administered Tokelau since 1926.
In a referendum on the same issue in February 2006, the self-government option attracted about 60 per cent of the vote. This time, 789 people of Tokelau’s estimated population of 1,500 were eligible to vote.
A five-member team of UN monitors observing the poll – which began on Saturday in Apia, Samoa, and continued on the three atolls this week – said the election process was fair, transparent and credible.
Ambassador Robert Aisi of Papua New Guinea, who represented the UN Special Committee on Decolonization (also known as the Committee of 24) on the monitoring team, said it was important to take pride in the nature of the election process.
“The Special Committee has long been in awe of the fact that this small community of 1,500 people has been fully able, amongst many other things, to manage its own budget, run its own public services, and take care of its own shipping service and telecommunication system,” he said.
“At the same time, Tokelau has been playing a role in regional affairs and managing relationships with its Pacific neighbours, not to mention being a member of a number of regional and international organizations and groupings. This all represents a series of achievements of which Tokelau can be very proud.”
In a statement released by his spokesperson, Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon said he took note of the results and respected the decision of the people of Tokelau.
“It is important that the people of Tokelau have had this opportunity,” the statement said, adding that New Zealand also deserved commendation “for its exemplary commitment and cooperation in this process.”
New Zealand’s Administrator of Tokelau, David Payton, said it was now up to the Tokelauan community to determine how it wants to move forward following the vote.
Tokelau, which lies about 500 kilometres north of Samoa in the Pacific Ocean, has a land mass of approximately 12 square kilometres.
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.