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Bougainville: May become Nation No.194

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December 13, 2019

Why in News?

With Bougainville’s overwhelming vote for independence from Papua New Guinea (PNG), the country has crossed a milestone in the peace process following the 1998 civil war.

What did the voting process reveal?

  • The non-binding referendum was a promise enshrined in the 2001 Bougainville Peace agreement.
  • This referendum was promised so as to ascertain a preference for either greater autonomy or separate statehood.
  • In a province of fewer than 3,00,000, the voting process underscored the challenges facing the regional administration in Buka and that in the national capital of Port Moresby.
  • The Bougainville Referendum Commission undertook the commendable task of enlisting inmates in hospitals and prisons and non-residents to ensure that the conduct of the franchise was inclusive.
  • A testament of the participation was the 85% turnout in the plebiscite.
  • With 98% opting to secede, the people spoke emphatically at the end  of an animated campaign.
  • The Central government had hoped that the region would vote to remain rather than secede.
  • The Bougainvillians and observers, the choice for separation was a foregone conclusion.

What is the story behind?

  • The demand for separate statehood in Bougainville dates back almost to PNG’s independence in 1975.
  • This sentiment was further crystallised by the conflict over the open cast copper mine in Panguna town.
  • Its revenues accounted for over 45% of the country’s export earnings.
  • In the confrontation that centred around sharing the mineral resources, the Bougainville Revolutionary Army was pitted against the PNG security forces for a decade.

What is next?

  • Enforcing the Bougainville verdict is bound to be protracted.
  • This is a characteristic of the political and administrative processes of carving out the boundaries of a new state.
  • Foremost, in an attempt to give shape to the decision, Port Moresby and Buka will engage in negotiations.
  • Any agreement would have to be ratified by the country’s Parliament.
  • In a sign of the future shape of events, the PNG Minister responsible for Bougainville recently expressed concern that Buka could set a precedent for any other breakaway movement.
  • There are issues around the economic viability of the tiny island group.
  • The controversy over the Panguna mine still lingers, as the company that once controlled operations is vying for restoration of its licence.
  • The Bougainville government would inevitably have to revisit that decision sooner rather than later.
  • But the advent of the world’s 194th nation may be some distance in the future.


Source: The Hindu

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