Near perfect turnout for Tokelau vote

Last updated 00:00 24/10/2007

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A one hundred per cent voter turn out on a remote New Zealand atoll has proven harder than expected as Tokelau continues its United Nation's supervised referendum today on whether it should become self-governing.

The team arrived by ship on the middle atoll of Nukunonu after yesterday spending the day on Fakaofo to the south where the population live on one islet around the size of a supermarket parking lot.

Tokelau has a population on three atolls of around 1400 with 789 registered voters, including the 222 living on Fakaofo.

Under UN supervision, the islanders are being asked whether they want self-governance from New Zealand, retaining citizenship and a kind of "free association" in a deal to ensure their economic well-being.

In February last year self government was endorsed by 60 per cent of the voters, missing the required 66 per cent.

At that referendum the electoral team was greeted with ceremony and speeches; this time it was a case of down to business.

It's a matter of personal pride for the Tokelau Government office that they score 100 per cent voter turnout and yesterday Fakaofo looked on target for it.

After collecting most of the votes in the morning the ballot team visited the local hospital but found no patients there.

By poll closing time three voters remained missing; one was on another atoll but two others were simply refusing to vote.

There is some concern here, driven by the 8000 Tokelauans in New Zealand, that they might lose access to New Zealand if they vote for self-government.

Representatives here deny this and were last night downplaying the significant of the non-voters.

"People have a right not to vote if they want to," Tokelau official Zak Patelesio said.

It did not spoil the festivities that followed the close of polling.

Tokelau is very hot but the dancers set a frantic, sweaty pace in the entertainment.

For the island's youth the one small piece of open space on the island, was transformed into a touch rugby haven.

Such is life here, that while there were four games underway on the "pitch" at the same time (with a round of volley ball off to the side) each game was played as if it was the only one there; and nobody clashed.

Nukunonu, where voting is underway today, is a predominantly Catholic island - famous also for Tokelau's only licensed bar which can sell beer only on Thursdays.

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- Fairfax Media

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