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Bougainville independence referendum need to be ready by December 2018

By Makereta Komai, PACNEWS Editor in Port Moresby, Papua New Guinea 

Papua New Guinea’s autonomous province of Bougainville will have to be ready and prepared for the independence referendum by December 2018, six months before the vote is taken.

Both the Government of Papua New Guinea and the Autonomous Bougainville Government have set 16 June, 2019 as the referendum day for the island nation of just over 249,000 population.

Two aspects of the Bougainville Peace Agreement signed in 2001 need to be met before the referendum — the creation of good governance structures and the disposal of any remaining weapons.

These conditions were highlighted by the acting director of Bougainville Affairs, John Avira while briefing Melanesian Spearhead Group (MSG) Senior Officials in Port Moresby on Sunday.

“We are working in partnership with the ABG and key stakeholders to ensure that Bougainville is weapons free by December, said Avira.

Key challenges identified 16 months before the proposed referendum includes electoral roll, question on the ballot paper, enrolment criteria, funding, security and awareness.

The PNG Constitution says the Referendum question or questions must be jointly agreed to by the two Governments after consultation. One option must be a choice of ‘separate independence for Bougainville’. There could be one question, asking whether voters support independence, “yes’ or “no”. Or if the governments agree, the question could be two or more options.

An ABG factsheet clearly spells out that some options that might be considered are:  1. Continue the same level of autonomy as now 2. More autonomy than now 3. Free association with PNG 4. Independence to be gradually attained over a period of years 5. Immediate independence, if there is sufficient capacity in Bougainville and if agreed by the National Government 6. Deferring a decision on independence until after another referendum is held.

“The two governments will research and consult to help decide and agree on the final question or questions, said Avira.

“At the end of the exercise we want to see that peace must prevail.”

The entity to conduct the referendum – the Referendum Commission was set up over a year ago with a proposed budget of K20 million (US$6.2 million) – but no appointments have been made to the Commission to oversee the independence referendum.

Solomon Islands has vested interest in the outcome of the referendum, said foreign affairs secretary, Peter Kenilorea.

“We have a common crossing border between Bougainville and the Shortland Islands. We’d like to partners with the Government of PNG and the ABG in the referendum process.

“Honiara looks forward to working closely with the ABG in the lead up to the independence referendum next year, said Kenilorea.

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