An independence referendum began last week in Bougainville, an autonomous region of Papua New Guinea, which may soon emerge as a fully-fledged state following the result of the vote, according to The Sydney Morning Herald.
Bougainville is a cluster of territories consisting of the main island of Bougainville, smaller island of Baku and some surrounding isles, located north of the sovereign Solomon Islands and east of New Guinea. It is also known as the North Solomons to some and was under Australian administration along with Papua New Guinea. Australia granted Papua New Guinea independence in 1975, but Bougainville remained part of the latter despite being culturally close to the Solomon Islands.
The polls, that opened on 23 November and will last until 7 December, offer two options – to seek independence from Papua New Guinea or to demand greater autonomy from the state. While more than 206,000 people out of 249,000 inhabitants have registered in order to cast their vote, the results of referendum are not considered to be necessarily binding and will require agreement between the Autonomous Bougainville Government and Papua New Guinea's government, and then approval by PNG’s parliament. A statement previously issued by PNG’s new Prime Minister James Marape showed that Port Moresby does not actively back the independence of Bougainville, but neither does it wholeheartedly reject it.
“I reiterate that the outcome of the referendum shall be deliberated on by leaders on both sides to ensure the best possible way forward for the people of Bougainville and Papua New Guinea”, Marape said in October as quoted by the media, while praising the pursuit of a political rather than a military solution to the independence calls.
With the results of the referendum expected by mid-December, the economic success of the emerging nation in Oceania could be closely linked to the resurrection of its copper industry.