They spoke more than 98% in favor of independence. Former Irish Prime Minister Bertie Ahern, chairman of the Bougainville Referendum Commission, announced on Wednesday (December 11th) that 176,928 voters on the island, one of the largest in the Solomon Islands, voted overwhelmingly to leave the country. Papua New Guinea, a major step towards the creation of a new state of 300,000 inhabitants.
In New York, United Nations Secretary-General Antonio Guterres hailed "The successful organization of the referendum" and congratulate the authorities and all the voters "For their dedication and the peaceful conduct of the process". He called on all parties to ensure that the follow-up will be "Inclusive and constructive"says his statement.
This historic vote, the final results of which will be announced on December 20, should definitely turn the page of a decade of armed conflict that has left some 20,000 dead – or 10% of the population – before the ceasefire of 1998.
The ball in the camp of Papua New Guinea
However, it is after the referendum that things will get complicated: the result of the referendum being non-binding, the parliament of Papua New Guinea must ratify the result. Puka Temu, Papua's minister in charge of Bougainville's affairs, said Papua New Guinea's prime minister, James Marape, would make a statement in the coming days on the way forward and asked Bougainville's voters "Leave enough time for the rest of Papua New Guinea to absorb this result".
Before the referendum, James Marape was personally in favor of Bougainville remaining a province and some elected officials of Papua New Guinea strongly opposed independence, fearing a contagion effect in a country divided between several provinces (Papua, Highlands, Momaes and Islands), with several hundred ethnic groups and as many languages.
For his part, the president of the Bougainville self-government, John Momis, said he thought James Marape was " clever (…) and ready to listen. " Mr. Ahern, the chairman of the Bougainville Referendum Commission, urged all parties to validate the outcome of the consultation. This vote is for "Your peace, your history and your future" and demonstrated "The power of the pen against weapons", he insisted.
Create the structures of a state
If the UN Secretary General hailed the organization of the referendum, the territory will only become a sovereign state when its independence has been recognized by the UN. "The recognition of a new state or government is something that only other states and governments can do. It usually involves the establishment of diplomatic relations "reminds the organization.
Chapter II, Article 4 of the UN Charter states that can become members of the UN "all (the) Peaceful states that accept the obligations of the (…) Charter and, in the judgment of the Organization, are capable of fulfilling them ". The United Nations General Assembly, on the recommendation of the Security Council, decides to admit candidate states.
To become a state, the Bougainville authorities will have to establish institutions, draft a constitution, set up security forces and ways to exercise a form of diplomacy. They can take the example of micro-states, such as Lichtenstein or the Principality of Andorra, which only have diplomatic representations in Berlin, Berne, Geneva, Brussels, New York, Strasbourg, Washington and Vienna for the Lichtenstein, and in France, Spain, Belgium, Austria, Switzerland, Strasbourg and the United States for the principality.
As regards the financial resources available to the territory, Financial Times recalls that despite its mineral wealth, it depends on Papua New Guinea for most of its income. Plans to revive the operation of Panguna's huge copper mine to help finance the region's self-sufficiency have failed since the Rio Tinto mining group withdrew from the project in 2016. Bougainville have more than one obstacle to overcome before the island becomes the 194e Member State of the United Nations.