11 December 2019 06:32
Bougainville votes overwhelmingly for independence from Papua New Guinea in landmark referendum Bougainville has voted overwhelmingly to seek independence from Papua New Guinea. Key points: Some 181,067 Bougainvilleans — or 85 per cent of people enrolled — voted The historic referendum was carried out over a two-week period, with people asked if they wanted independence or greater autonomy from Papua New Guinea. The poll was a key part of a nearly 20-year-old peace agreement, which brought an end to a bloody civil war in the region. Bougainville Referendum Commission chair Bertie Ahern said yesterday the vote was conducted "in an environment that was conducive to a free, fair and credible process". The deputy speaker of Bougainville's Parliament, Francesca Semoso, said she was emotional when she cast her vote last month.
The civil war that subsequently broke out between the Bougainville Revolutionary Army, Papua New Guinean forces and other pro-PNG militias in Bougainville saw the mine shut down in 1989. To ensure everyone enrolled had a chance to vote, referendum officials visited people in hospitals and police cells. Voting was also made available to Bougainvilleans working on mine sites around PNG and those working in Australia and Solomon Islands. Special arrangements were made to allow upes — boys and young men undertaking their coming of age initiations — to vote in Bougainville's historic referendum. PNG and Bougainville are now expected to hold negotiations and present an option for the PNG Parliament to vote on.
Polling took place over two weeks, with voters asked to choose between Bougainville having continued autonomy within PNG or the second option, becoming independent. The long-anticipated referendum is the ultimate provision of 2001's Bougainville Peace Agreement which followed a protracted civil war. A joint taskforce formed between the PNG and Autonomous Bougainville governments is to conduct consultations on the result after the completion of the referendum. PNG's Minister for Bougainville Affairs, Sir Puka Temu, told those present that both governments would adhere to the guidelines of the Peace Agreement, which did not determine a time frame for the consultation process. Sir Puka said he wouldn't present the result to the parliament until after consultation has taken place. "This is a transformational political announcement," he said, urging Bougainville to give PNG time to process the result. Meanwhile, Mr Ahern, a former Irish prime minister, paid tribute to the people of Bougainville for their enthusiastic and peaceful participation in the process. Image copyright Jeremy MILLER / Bougainville Referendum Commission Image caption Upe men casting their votes during the referendum The people of Bougainville, an island group in Papua New Guinea, have voted overwhelmingly for independence. Voters had two options - more autonomy, or full independence. The referendum was approved by the Papua New Guinea government, but the result is non-binding. Nevertheless, the landslide victory will put pressure on PNG to grant Bougainville independence. The islands have a population of around 300,000, and 206,731 people enrolled to vote in the referendum. 176,928 voted for independence The results were announced in the town of Buka by former Irish Prime Minister Bertie Ahern, the chairman of the Bougainville Referendum Commission.