The 2019 Bougainville Referendum and the Question of Independence: From Conflict to Consensus

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    In 2019, a referendum on the political future of the Autonomous Region of Bougainville was held, resulting in a resounding majority–97.7 per cent–for independence from Papua New Guinea. The non-binding referendum was a long-awaited event within a lengthy peace process following a civil war that began in the late 1980s. The conflict caused deep divisions in an already factionalized society and generated divergent ideas on the future status of the region. Yet the referendum, held more than 20 years after the end of the conflict, revealed a near-universal consensus on the question of independence, and an apparent rejection of the idea of ‘greater autonomy’. This article looks to the complex political economy and politics of Bougainville, and traces the paths taken by both the Autonomous Bougainville Government and the Government of Papua New Guinea leading up to the referendum, to seek to explain how this consensus was achieved in a society previously divided on the issue. It further examines how the almost unanimous verdict on the question of independence is being carried forward through political transitions, and how it informs ongoing consultations with the Government of Papua New Guinea on Bougainville’s future political status.
    Original languageEnglish
    Pages (from-to)58-88
    JournalJournal of Pacific History
    Issue number1
    Publication statusPublished - 2022


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