The world will know tonight whether a new nation is to be born and if New Zealand has lost its last Pacific colony.
Tokelau, three small atolls north of Samoa with a population of 1400 people, has had a week of United Nation's supervised voting on whether to become self-governing or stay part of New Zealand.
The last round of voting is taking place on the northern atoll of Atafu today and when polls close at 4pm the counting will begin. The electoral roll contains 789 names but three have died and a handful of people on the atolls of Fakaofo and Nukunonu have not voted.
Self-government will take place if two-thirds of the valid vote, plus one, are in favour.
In February last year they reached just over 60 per cent, failing to vote for self-government.
The small diplomatic and media team reached Atafu this morning on the Samoan ferry Lady Naomi and will stay overnight before heading back on the two day voyage to Apia.
The Wellington based Administrator of Tokelau, David Payton, said New Zealand would respect whatever decision was announced today.
"Much has been said ... Let me make this very clear; the decision is in the hands of the people of Tokelau.
"That is the very best type of decision that can be made. Preparation for the referendum have been in the hands of the people of Tokelau and you have done a superb job for preparing the people for this decision."
A small ceremony marked opening of the vote, blessed by Congregational Christian Church pastor Iosua Faamaoni.
He has been a controversial figure in Tokelau after leaving Atafu in 1992 following an admission he had sexually abused a girl six years earlier. He never faced charges and in 2004 returned and sought forgiveness from the atoll.
"In choosing and making our votes," he said, "let us above all put our love of God, our love for each other above everything else that we do. May they be our guiding light, our guiding force."
With three hours to go before the poll closing the turnout on Atafu appeared to be slow. Officials put this down to the fact that most of the men on the island were needed to unload Lady Naomi. Every piece of baggage and cargo has to be manhandled onto lighters and taken across the surge swept reef.
The Ulu or Head of Tokelau and also the head of Atafu, Kuresa Nasau, believes around 80 per cent of voters will this time favour self-government.
"Whether there is a yes or no, life must go on in Tokelau."
UN diplomat Robert Aisi, who is from Papua New Guinea, said the world body supported the way the referendum was running.
- © Fairfax NZ News
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