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[February 16, 2006]


(New Zealand Press Association Via Thomson Dialog NewsEdge)Fakaofo, Feb 17 NZPA - Tokelau could have another referendum within two years, one of its top leaders says.

The tiny and remote group of atolls -- Atafu, Nukunonu and Fakofo -- have decided to remain a colony of New Zealand instead of opting for self-governance in free association with New Zealand. A two thirds majority was needed for change but fell about 30 votes short in the result announced yesterday.

Until last night, Pio Iosefo Tuia of Nukunonu was Tokelau leader (Ulu). He remains mayor (Faipule) of Nukunonu, and was and is a strong advocate for Tokelau taking charge of its own destiny.

And he is not giving up.

The result -- 349 in favour, 232 against out of a valid ballot total of 581 (there were 615 registered to vote out of a population of up to 1600) -- gave him confidence.

``It was the first referendum, it's a historical time for Tokelau to come through -- the 60 percent we have at the moment really guaranteed what we want to do in the very near future. The next one is not far from now.''

He said the opposition was small but more education and consultation was needed.

Mr Tuia said it was possible the large expatriate population, about 7000 in New Zealand alone, who were not eligible to vote may have influenced opinion locally.

``We had some opinions of those in New Zealand -- they have been so strong saying we are wiping away their rights to determine the future, that's another influence.''

He said some leadership on the atolls also did not look outward.

Mr Tuia is worried the people's spirit will lose its vigour after 80 years as a New Zealand colony following British annexation in 1889.

``Tokelau has been under New Zealand for a long, long time and they feel comfortable there because New Zealand has never put any harsh judgment on Tokelau, they just left it to itself,'' he said.

``The support given by New Zealand every year really satisfied the people so why think about a different arrangement? The people have gone through that experience for so long ... they have never reflected on that enough.

``They are not free, they are relying too much on the assistance given them by New Zealand.''

The situation was dangerous for the vitality of the culture and society.

``When we ask for help, but know very well you are not helping yourself, what sort of practice is that?''

The role of Ulu has now passed to Kolouei O'Brien of Fakaofo. New Zealand Administrator Neil Walter also passes his job on to someone else.

Mr Walter believed self-determination would have given Tokelau the best of both worlds -- security through a treaty binding New Zealand to ongoing support while opening the country up to assistance from other countries and providing self-pride.

``Anyone who has worked hard at producing what we thought was the best possible solution for Tokelau would naturally feel some disappointment that it hasn't proved a winner on the day,'' he told reporters.

Mr Walter came to Tokelau, 500km north of Samoa, for the first time 30 years ago. Since then New Zealand, which provides about $9 million a year plus funding projects, had helped build up governing capacity.

``There's a difference between having the capability to run yourselves, which Tokelau certainly has demonstrated, and actually feeling that confidence that you do it and take on formal responsibility as well as formal authority that goes with self-government,'' Mr Walter said.

Either result would not have altered the running of the country.

``On the ground here there will be no significant change, Tokelau will continue to run itself and make all the important calls as it has for many years and New Zealand will continue to provide the best support we can.''

The vote meant Tokelau would remain on a United Nations list of non-self governing territories.

``It would be possible to say Tokelau has had its act of self-determination but New Zealand wouldn't push that line, neither would the United Nations and neither, I think, would Tokelau,'' Mr Walter said.

While the vote had not produced change, the process was valuable.

``It's the first time they have had to really focus to this extent on the question of their political future and to that extent you could say the process has been an instructive and a useful one.''

NZPA PAR mt mjd sl

Maggie Tait's visit to the Tokelau Islands was sponsored by the Pacific Cooperation Foundation, ph (04) 9319380, email, website

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