Bougainville Independence Referendum 2019: What are the risks and challenges -Report


We are the indigenous people of our motherland Bougainville. We alone have to decide our future, our destiny. No outsider can decide for us.”

John Momis, President of the Autonomous Region of Bougainville, 20132

The ABG President, Hon Dr. Chief John Momis has nominated 2019 as the year for the referendum vote to be conducted, but this is yet to be agreed upon by the PNG Prime Minister and his cabinet

A vigorous awareness campaign on the issue of referendum is a must do exercise by the Autonomous Bougainville Government if the people are to be well informed of the issues that confronts them in regards to referendum and independence according to the Chairman of the Referendum, Peace and Reconciliation Committee and Member for Selau Constituency, Hon Joseph Watawi echoed this during his recent address to people of Hagogohe.

Recently Canberra published a paper on the Bougainville independence Referendum

DOWNLOAD COPY HERE Woodbury paper (IPSD version)

This paper analyses some of the key political and strategic dynamics of Bougainville’s promised referendum, due to be held between 2015 and 2020. It identifies a number of significant risks, primarily located in the period before and after the vote. These are connected to likely frustrations should legal impediments be raised to the holding of the referendum, issues related to the resumption of mining and the role of spoilers, and differing expectations between the PNG Government and Bougainvilleans over the outcome and how it will be implemented.

The paper argues that much can and should be done between now and the referendum to help mitigate these challenges, requiring pro-active support from key states in the region.

Between 2015 and 2020, the Autonomous Region of Bougainville is scheduled to hold a referendum on its future political status—that is, whether it should remain part of the southwest Pacific state of Papua New Guinea (PNG) or progress to full independence. The path to Bougainville’s referendum has been long, complex and costly.3 Bougainville’s secessionist movement has evolved over many decades but the complications caused by a lucrative but environmentallydestructive mine, a civil war which killed thousands of people, and a national government reluctant to set precedents for other provinces, has ensured the question of Bougainville’s political status has remained a difficult and divisive issue.

The ‘Bougainville Peace Agreement’, signed in 2001, guaranteed Bougainvilleans a referendum which would include the option of independence, following a prescribed period of autonomous government.4 It is yet to be determined, however, whether the referendum proves to be the final resolution to Bougainville’s struggles or whether it has simply facilitated a temporary lull in hostilities.

This paper will analyse some of the key political and strategic dynamics of Bougainville’s promised referendum. It will identify foreseeable risks and challenges that may be encountered during the preparation, conduct and aftermath of the vote.

The paper is set out in four main parts, followed by a conclusion. The first part provides an overview of Bougainville, the crisis, key provisions of the Bougainville Peace Agreement, and the significance of the referendum. The second part analyses factors that could affect Bougainville during the prereferendum period. This includes issues associated with achieving the preconditions for the plebiscite—namely, disarmament and good governance—and problems associated with expediting the resumption of mining to boost fiscal selfsufficiency.

The third part focuses on the referendum period itself. It discusses what is required for a ‘free and fair’ election, flags the potential for ‘spoilers’, and the need for appropriate security arrangements.5 The fourth part covers the postreferendum period, focusing on the critical first 12 months following the vote. This is when the durability of the outcome will be tested and when unmet expectations by various parties over the referendum’s result, as well as what it means and how it should be implemented, could have serious consequences.

Finally, the conclusion to this paper will summarise its key findings, consider various perceptions of Bougainville’s preparedness for potential independence,

But, Chairman Watawi appealed to the people not to be frightened or scared of voting for independence saying there are many good things on offer when we gain independence.

The exact date and timing for the conduct of referendum would be further discussed by the two governments in their future JSB meetings.