Delayed But Looming: The Question of Bougainville Independence – by Grant Wyeth (The Diplomat – March 14, 2019)

The referendum for Papua New Guinea’s eastern region is now set for October. How its outcome will be handled remains unclear.

Earlier this month the date of the Bougainville independence referendum was pushed back. Initially — although tentatively — scheduled for June 15, the poll will now be held in October. Under the 2001 peace agreement that followed a decade-long civil war in Papua New Guinea (PNG), it was negotiated that a referendum on the future status of Bougainville would be held prior to mid-2020.

While preparations have been ongoing, it is believed the Bougainville Referendum Commission (BRC), headed by former Irish Prime Minister Bertie Ahern, would have been both financially and structurally struggling to meet the referendum’s requirements by June.

While the delay in the referendum isn’t a great surprise, the exact meaning of the referendum continues to be contested. PNG Prime Minister Peter O’Neill recently stated that the referendum is nonbinding, and that after the poll is conducted the PNG parliament will debate the results, and ultimately decide on whether Bouganville will become the world’s newest country.

O’Neill’s assertion that ultimate authority lies with the PNG parliament has the potential to once again inflame tensions between Bougainville and Port Moresby should the Bougainville public vote for independence.

The position of Bougainville within PNG has been an uncomfortable one. Geographically and ecologically Bougainville forms the northern part of the archipelago that includes the Solomon Islands, maintaining greater cultural and linguistic links to these southern islands as well.

For the rest of this article:

Comments are closed.