THE people of Bougainville have voted overwhelmingly – 97.7 per cent of the total vote cast – for independence from PNG, but will have to wait for the national parliament to ratify their political future.
The referendum, a requirement of the Bougainville Peace Agreement signed in 2001, was hailed a success and credible.
Prime Minister James Marape said: “I want to assure the people of Bougainville and all Papua New Guineans that the Government has heard your voice.”
Autonomous Bougainville Government (ABG) President Dr John Momis said: “It is successful in my view. It has been a peaceful outcome. This has set a good standard for us to follow in what we do in future.”
New Ireland Governor and former prime minister Sir Julius Chan said: “If they choose to be independent, let them have that. It doesn’t mean they are leaving us. It is better to stand on your own feet than to constantly wait for handouts from Waigani.”
Bougainvile Affairs Minister Sir Puka Temu however clarified that the referendum was “non-binding”.
He said the next step was the consultation process, which had no time frame, between the Government and the Autonomous Bougainville Government.
“The consultation – I don’t know how long it will take – will determine Bougainvile’s economical status, movement and residential status of Bougainvilleans in Papua New Guinea and other political, economical and social issues that will affect Bougainvilleans,” he said.
“Even if over 80 per cent of the (voters wanted) independence, it will not be ratified by Parliament (immediately). There is still a long process to go.
“The outcome of the consultation will come to Parliament for ratification to determine the final political future”.
He said it was a requirement in the Bougainville Peace Agreement.
Meanwhile, Bougainville Referendum Commission chairman Bertie Ahern is happy with the outcome, and how the whole process was conducted.
He described it as “something very special”.
“This electoral process, and the way it has been conducted, has captured the imagination of the world,” he said.
“The singing, the dancing, the celebration. There have been tears of joy and tears of raw emotion. People have waited a long time.
“We have heard many say that this referendum has reached across old divides, old conflicts and old wounds, and brought Bougainville together. As a long time-peace builder, this really is music to my ears.”
During his many trips around Bougainville, he always reminded the people that peace “really is a process”.
“It is not a word. It is not an end point. It is not the final whistle in a game,” he said.