Bougainville Referendum Results : ‘We are reborn’: Bougainville votes 97.7 % for independence from Papua New Guinea

” That’s my dream, to go and rebuild, We need the best policies, the best laws, to be the best country. We are reborn.”

Pajomile Minaka, from Bougainville’s southern region the 36-year old, who was a child during the conflict , told Reuters he was taking a law course to equip himself to help rebuild his homeland.

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. Of the 181,000 ballots, almost 98% were in favour of 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.

In total, 181,067 ballots were cast. Of those:

176,928 voted for independence
3,043 voted for greater autonomy
1,096 were classed as informal, or void.

“There’s tears, tears of joy, raw emotion – people have waited a long time, The pen is always mightier than the sword.

The results were announced in the town of Buka by former Irish Prime Minister Bertie Ahern, the chairman of the Bougainville Referendum Commission.

“Now, at least psychologically, we feel liberated,” said John Momis, president of the regional autonomous government.

The ABG President, Chief DR JOHN MOMIS was lost for words after the results were declared by the Chair of the Bougainville Referendum Commission this afternoon.

In his address to the people who were present at the Hutjena Counting Centre, President Momis thanked the people for giving his ABG the clear mandate to consult with the National Government on the wishes of the people. He said that the people have spoken through the votes and the outcome will not be different.


President MOMIS also thanked the National Government for their commitment to complete the process and the end result must be a total and lasting peace for the people of Bougainville.
He also thanked the Donor partners, International organizations that observed the polling and the count the UN team, High Commissioners of Britain, Australia, New Zealand and many who were part of the peace process on Bougainville.

The President Momis mentioned the people of Bougainville that despite so many problems they have faced in the past kept their faith for the future of Bougainville as clearly demonstrated by their vote. He said nearly 98 percent for Independence is a huge testimony of what the people of Bougainville want for their future.

One Bougainvillian, nursing graduate Alexia Baria, told news agency AFP that “happiness was an understatement”.

“You see my tears – this is the moment we have been waiting for,” she said.

Will this place become the world’s next country?

Why was there a referendum?

Bougainville had a nine-year separatist war that began in 1988, fuelled by economic grievance.

The end of the fighting led to the Bougainville Peace Agreement, the creation of the Autonomous Bougainville Government, and the promise of a non-binding referendum on independence.

Even in colonial times, Bougainville was an outpost. The islands attempted to declare independence during the formation of Papua New Guinea in 1975 – but they were ignored.

What happens now?

The referendum was non-binding – meaning independence won’t happen automatically.

Discussions will take place with the Papua New Guinea government to decide when – or if – the transition to full independence can begin.

Although the PNG government was against independence, and does not have to accept the result, the huge mandate will make it hard to ignore.

The 98% result is above pre-referendum predictions – most experts expected the figure to be around 75% – 80%.

The PNG minister for Bougainville affairs, Puka Temu, said “the outcome is a credible one” – but asked that voters “allow the rest of Papua New Guinea sufficient time to absorb this result”.

Is Bougainville ready for independence?

The new country – should it happen – would be small, with a land mass of less than 10,000 sq km (slightly larger than Cyprus, and slightly smaller than Lebanon).

Likewise, its population would be one of the world’s smallest – slightly smaller than Pacific neighbour Vanuatu, and slightly bigger than Barbados.

But according to research by Australia’s Lowy Institute, Bougainville self-reliance would at best be years away.

The country is rich in natural resources – especially copper, which has been extracted on a large scale since the 1960s under Australian administration.

But mining has been crippled by the war – and the distribution of revenue was one of the factors behind the conflict.

One estimate cited by the Lowy Institute says Bougainville would only have 56% of the revenue needed to be self-reliant.

Bougainville Referendum News : Regular voting now complete with overwhelming vote expected in favour of independence but the birth of a separate nation may take many years to achieve

 ”  Experts believe people the 250,000 to 300,000 people of Bougainville will vote overwhelming in favor of independence ahead of the other option, which is greater autonomy.

But the process of becoming a separate nation could take years to achieve.” 

Report from the New York Times 

The Bougainville Referendum Commission today acknowledged the tireless effort of nearly 1,500 polling officials as regular polling for Bougainvilleans comes to an end across a record 829 locations in three countries.

Regular polling finished yesterday (Tuesday) at 6pm, with only the submission of postal votes to continue to Saturday 7 December, 6 pm.

 

They voted in highland villages and on remote atolls. Even 15 youth who live in the jungle and wear bright Upe hats as they undergo traditional training to become men had the chance to vote.  ( See full story Part 2 )

All across the Pacific region of Bougainville, people have voted in a historic referendum to decide if they want to become the world’s newest nation by gaining independence from Papua New Guinea.

“Today is a momentous occasion for the people of Bougainville , we have waited years to finally exercise our right to determine our own political future.” Vice President of the Autonomous Bougainville Government, Hon. Raymond Masono upon casting his vote during the polling at Bel Isi Park in Buka.
Hon. Masono acknowledged the work of the BRC and thanked the ABG, GOPNG and donor partners for their support from the very first day up until now.

Regular voting ended on Tuesday while any remaining postal votes will be accepted through Saturday. The results will be announced in mid-December.

The referendum is nonbinding, and a vote for independence would then need to be negotiated by leaders from both Bougainville and Papua New Guinea. The final say would then go to lawmakers in the Papua New Guinea Parliament

Chief Referendum Officer Mauricio Claudio said there had been long queues and high enthusiasm at many of the 828 polling places.

“During polling we’ve witnessed a festive and joyous mood,” he said. “There have been dancing troupes and whole communities getting together.”

Claudio said that giving Upes a chance to vote at male-only polling stations was one of many referendum firsts. He said election officers hiked for two hours into the jungle to collect the votes.

The young Upe men can remain isolated from their communities for several years as they learn about culture, medicine, hunting and other skills. During this time, they wear the tall, woven Upe hats that hide their hair and are forbidden to be seen by women.

Election officers also traveled by overnight boat to get to some of the five offshore atolls and visited a police lockup to collect votes from prisoners.

Claudio said there was only one disruption, in the Konnou area, where a long-simmering dispute led police to advise referendum officers to close one polling station. The affected voters got a chance to cast their ballots elsewhere.

Complicating the voting process were the limited communications throughout the region and the traditional way many people live, including not owning any photo identification. Added to that, the Bougainville Referendum Commission only secured its funding in March.

But more than 40 U.N. staffers and over 100 international observers helped oversee a process that Claudio said had gone remarkably well.

The referendum is a key part of a 2001 peace agreement that ended a brutal civil war in which at least 15,000 people died in the cluster of islands to the east of the Papua New Guinea mainland.

The violence in Bougainville began in the late 1980s, triggered by conflict over an enormous opencast copper mine at Panguna. The mine was a huge export earner for Papua New Guinea, but many in Bougainville felt they got no benefit and resented the pollution and disruption to their traditional way of living.

The mine has remained shut since the conflict. Some believe it could provide a future revenue source for Bougainville should it become independent.

Experts believe people the 250,000 to 300,000 people of Bougainville will vote overwhelming in favor of independence ahead of the other option, which is greater autonomy.

But the process of becoming a separate nation could take years to achieve.

Part 2 Report and pictures from Ben Bohane

They appeared in a fringe of forest at the edge of Teuapaii village; hesitant, ghostly, looking awed and slightly bewildered at the scene in front of them after their years of seclusion in the bush.

People were chanting and danced in circles beneath a Bougainville flag nearby to welcome the handful of election monitors, and Upe initiates, as the village prepared to vote.

Blown conch shells and bamboo wind pipes reverberated in the air.

Boys as young as 10 and young men of voting age, all wearing the woven Upe hats of initiation that adorn the centre of Bougainville’s flag, made a fleeting appearance to cast their ballot.

In the many years I’ve covered Bougainville it was my first time to see them, and after those of age had voted they drifted silently back into the bush to complete their schooling in tribal law, medicine, building, fighting and love magic, amongst other life skills.

The Upe tradition used to be common across northern and central Bougainville, as well as Buka, but missionary influence stopped much of it over the past 100 years.

Yet in remains in pockets among the Wakunai peoples and some isolated villages we visited inland from the west coast.

They were proud to be continuing this tabu kastom that turns boys into men, and whose hats covering their uncut hair twisted in long dredlocks remains today the symbol of Bougainville.