Referendum

Bougainville's vote on its future political status

Referendum

Referendum is one of the pillars of the Bougainville Peace Agreement (BPA). The BPA declares that in the Constitution of the Papua New Guinea National Government and the Autonomous Bougainville Government, the Autonomous Region of Bougainville (ARoB) is guaranteed a referendum on Bougainville’s political future to be held amongst Bougainvilleans 10-15 years after the establishment of the Autonomous Bougainville Government. ABG was established in 2005 and therefore, according to the Constitution, a referendum can be held between the years 2015 and 2020. Both governments will agree upon the official date of the referendum. The target date for the referendum has been set for June 15th, 2019.

To download a fact sheet about the referendum click here.

WHAT IS A REFERENDUM?

A referendum is a vote by the people to decide on a singe political issue. It is a way to inform and make decisions about very important issues. In Bougainville, the BPA calls for a referendum on, “Bougainville’s future political status,” to be held in any case, no later than June 2020, which is 15 years after the first sitting of the House of Representatives.

A referendum is like an election, but instead of voting for a person/candidate/party, people choose an ‘option.’ That option or options will be on a ballot paper. People will choose the option they want by marking that option on the paper.

Holding a free and fair referendum is not easy. Referendums can cause conflict, especially where there are already ethnic, religious, or other kinds of differences between people. One danger is that the result can leave the ‘losing side’ feeling like the outcome causes them serious disadvantage. In the past 25 years, violent conflict has occurred after independence referendums- for example in Timor-Leste and South Sudan. Having clear arrangements for the referendum and spreading awareness and understanding of these arrangements among the voters will help to avoid conflict. 

In preparing for the Bougainville Referendum it will be important to consider both the advantages and disadvantages that can flow from the referendum, learn from experience of other countries and do everything possible to minimize the chance of serious problems occurring during the referendum and afterwards.

MAIN FEATURES OF THE BOUGAINVILLE REFERENDUM:

Like an election, the Bougainville Referendum will have:

  • A ballot paper with options to vote for (these options must be jointly agreed by both Governments after consultation but one option must be concerning 'separate independence for Bougainville');
  • A roll of persons eligible to vote (there are two groups of people allowed to vote in the referendum: people who can vote for National Elections in Bougainville and non-resident Bougainvilleans)

Unlike an election however, 

  • The result of the referendum is not binding (even if the referendum result favours independence this does not mean Bougainville will immediately gain independence);
  • If the two Governments agree, the referendum result will be tabled to the National Parliament (but the Parliament is not required by the BPA or PNG Constitution to make a decision on the result).

AN AGENCY RESPONSIBLE FOR CONDUCTING THE REFERENDUM:

The two governments have agreed on establishing an independent administrative agency to conduct the referendum. The GoPNG, ABG, PNG Electoral Commission and the Bougainville Electoral Commission have entered into an agreement which provides for the implementation of joint responsibility through the establishment of an independent agency, the Bougainville Referendum Commission, which will carry out the referendum in Bougainville.

The Bougainville Referendum Commission (BRC) was created on Janurary 24th, 2017 and the agreement signed in the presence of delegates from both governments.The formation of the BRC as an independent and impartial entity was agreed upon by the National Executive Council, the Bougainville Executive Council and the Attorney General.

The PNG Electoral Commission and the Bougainville Electoral Commission will be jointly responsible for the conduct of the referendum.

DOCUMENTS THAT GOVERN THE REFERENDUM:

The rules for the Bougainville Referendum are in four legal documents:

  • Bougainville Peace Agreement
  • Papua New Guinea Constitution
  • Bougainville Constitution
  • Organic Law on Peace-Building in Bougainville - Autonomous Bougainville Government and Bougainville Referendum

To access downloadable versions of these documents click here.