Bougainville independence: Pressure for PNG agreement builds

Setting goals for independence by 2025, UN membership

and a sustainable economy signal Bougainville’s resolve.


By Anthony Regan

The second constitutionally mandated post-referendum consultations between Papua New Guinea and Bougainville leaders about independence for Bougainville are being planned for late June 2021.


Bougainville President Ishmael Toroama stated a goal of independence and full United Nations membership by the end of 2025 at the first consultation meeting, chaired by the UN, on May 18-19. Together with significant initiatives taken by the Autonomous Bougainville Government (ABG) since elections last year, the statement of these goals signals a degree of commitment to independence that not so far fully understood outside Bougainville.


The PNG/ABG consultations are required following the referendum on Bougainville independence held late in 2019. There was a 97.7 per cent vote for independence, based on an 87 percent turnout of enrolled voters, in turn based on a remarkably accurate roll. The referendum was adjudged “credible, free and fair” and “transparent and inclusive” by multiple independent international and national observers.


Unlike other conflicts resolved by agreements requiring a referendum on independence following a period of autonomy (notably Southern Sudan and New Caledonia), the Bougainville referendum outcome is not binding on PNG.


Rather the Bougainville peace agreement and the PNG Constitution leave the referendum outcome to be dealt with by three possible processes: first, PNG and ABG consultation; second, subject to consultation outcomes, tabling of the referendum results in the PNG Parliament for “ratification,” involving “final decision-making authority” of the parliament; third any “differences” being resolved per the “dispute resolution procedure” provided for in the PNG Constitution.



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