News Item

Historic Bougainville referendum gets underway

Media 25 Nov 2019

On Saturday 23 November, an estimated 207,000 Bougainvilleans registered to vote in a long-awaited referendum for independence from Papua New Guinea.

Over the next two weeks, the polls will stay open to allow those that stay in rural areas to have their say. Results of the referendum are expected to be released in mid-December.

The referendum comes after the 2001 Peace Agreement which ended a decade-long civil conflict, particularly between the Bougainville Revolutionary Army and the PNG Defence Force. Part of the peace agreement included granting Bougainville autonomy and non-binding referendum to decide on its future political status.

New Zealand played a role in the peace agreement thanks to former foreign minster, Sir Don McKinnon whom initiated peace talks in New Zealand which led to a formal cease fire and eventually the Bougainville Peace Agreement.

In preparation for the referendum in early November, New Zealand led a police support mission in Bougainville alongside Australia, Fiji Solomon Islands and Vanuatu who are also signatories in the peace agreement.

Regional bodies such as the Pacific Islands Forum have sent their Election Observer Mission team upon the request of the Papua New Guina government and Autonomous Bougainville Government.

"The Forum Election Observation process is a key way the Forum can support peace and security in Member countries," said Pacific Islands Forum Secretary General, Dame Meg Taylor.

"Nearly 20 years after the terrible conflict, we now watch as the people of Bougainville get ready to cast their vote to determine a non-binding Referendum for greater autonomy or independence - a cornerstone component of the peace pact." she adds.

It is expected that majority of the votes will favour independence, however the vote outcome will need to be ratified by PNG's Parliament in addition to a negotiation process which may take months or years.

Image source: RNZ Pacific