12 December, 2019
Syllabus subtopic: Effect of policies and politics of developed and developing countries on India's interests, Indian diaspora.
Prelims and Mains focus: About the referendum in the archipelago and related geographical regions on the world atlas
News: The South Pacific islands of Bougainville have overwhelmingly voted to be independent of Papua New Guinea, the referendum commission said on Wednesday, in a historic poll that will embolden separatists as they start negotiating the terms of their sovereignty.
Bougainville's quest for independence is one of the dozens of separatist movements in play around the world. There is a strong movement in Scotland seeking independence from the United Kingdom, while Catalan separatists in Spain remain active.
Thousands of protesting Papuans also recently called for an independence vote, seeking to separate from Indonesia.
The islands are still recovering from the conflict, which killed 20,000 people in a fight over land royalties and pollution in rivers near the now-shuttered Panguna gold and copper project.
It was the deadliest conflict in the area since the Second World War.
Once the economic engine of PNG, Bougainville has fallen to the bottom of almost every financial indicator, despite boasting mineral riches, fertile volcanic soil and stunning geography.
About the referendum
Almost 98% of the 181,067 votes cast backed independence in the non-binding poll that is part of a peace pact struck in the aftermath of a decade-long war between Bougainville's rebel fighters and PNG forces, which ended in 1998.
The referendum gave voters in the island cluster a choice between independence and greater autonomy.
There was a mood of celebration throughout the two-week referendum, which ended on Dec. 7, with many voters carrying Bougainville's predominantly blue flag to polling stations.
Ballots from different areas were mixed before officials tallied the results to eliminate the risk of reprisals.
The comprehensive vote in Bougainville will be used to strengthen the hand of negotiators as they start discussions on the terms of independence with the PNG government.
Any agreement struck in the negotiations would still need to pass through PNG's parliament.
Just 3,043 voters backed the other option on the ballot - greater autonomy - while a small number of informal votes were recorded.
Bougainville Vice President Raymond Mason has told Reuters a transition could take 10 years, as the region would need to rebuild its institutions.
Discussion over how Bougainville would sustain its independence is likely to dominate negotiations after the referendum, two PNG ministers told Reuters earlier.
Source: Indian Express
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