Bougainville Referendum: Will It Become the World’s Newest Country?

Bougainville referendum
image via Flickr

One of the islands of Papua New Guinea is expected to become the world’s newest country in the recently held Bougainville referendum. This Saturday will write history in either case on this island when the voters will decide whether they wish a greater autonomy or full independence.

The experts predict that three-fourth will vote for the independence of Bougainville.

Why Bougainville Seeks Independence?

This island was named after a French explorer of the 18th century. It became part of a German colony at the end of the 19th century.

Bougainville came under the control of Australia during WWI until 1975. It remained under Japanese control during WWII. The current population of Bougainville is around three hundred thousand, and it has served as a military post during the colonial post.

Papua New Guinea (PNG) got independence in 1975, and Bougainville became one of its provinces. But it had remained a half-hearted union from the province’s side.

Bougainville referendum precedes a long struggle for independence. It had passed a resolution for independence even before the formation of Papua New Guinea. However, both Australia and PNG ignored their separatist demand.

Subsequently, the unrest grew in the province following the failure of the resolution. It led to a separatist movement in 1988 that continued for nine years.

The nine-year-long war that continued saw bloodshed in which as many as 20000 people died, according to the estimates.

The war finally ended following the international arbitration as a result of which Bougainville peace agreement was signed.

The year 2005 paved the way for the Bougainville referendum after an autonomous government formed in the province that promised to hold a vote on the issue.

What are the Options Now?

Now the voters have two options: whether to go for greater autonomy or choose independence.

It is widely expected that the majority of them will choose liberation. However, there are three likely outcomes:

  1. That majority will vote for greater autonomy, in which case it will remain part of Papua New Guinea.
  2. That PNG will accept the majority decision for independence, which will lead to the formation of a new country.
  3. If PNG does not respect the majority vote of independence, the crisis could renew anytime soon.

What Does PNG Say?

The central government had earlier stopped the province’s funding for the referendum process as it wished to retain the region. However, the new PM James Marape had promised an unconditional referendum, with the central government taking the results seriously.

Does PNG Still Wish to Control Bougainville?

Bougainville is blessed with the natural resources even after its bronze and gold mines saw damage during the war. Before that, it was the wealthiest province of the country.

But Bougainville represents a tip of the iceberg for the PNG as the other 20 provinces could demand greater autonomy or independence.

Is Bougainville Prepared for Independence?

If it becomes the new country, it will be a very tiny state with an area of around ten thousand square kilometers, a little larger than Cyprus, and smaller than Lebanon. It will also become one of the least populated countries in the world.

What are the other countries doing about it?

Australia is the nearest neighbor of PNG. It is also one of the most benevolent donors of Bougainville. It has also acted as a mediator in the ceasefire.

The US and China also have a keen eye on the issue. There are reports that China has already sent its delegation to see the prospects of investment in Bougainville. Beijing has already increased its diplomatic relations with the islands in the Pacific ocean.

The US, Australia, New Zealand, and Japan, have also provided financial assistance to the province for holding the referendum.

Related: Catalonia Referendum: Independence An Unfinished Business?

About Staff Writer

My focus is on politics, history, religion, and philosophy of life. I present news analysis and opinion on current affairs and occasionally produce satire articles

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