BUKA - “That’s my dream, to go and rebuild,” says Pajomile Minaka from Bougainville’s southern region, a child during the civil war and now 36 years old and taking a law course to equip him to help rebuild his homeland.
“We need the best policies and the best laws to be the best country,” he told the Reuters news agency. “We are reborn.”
The people of Bougainville voted overwhelmingly for independence. Of the 181,000 ballots, almost 98% were in favour of independence and the landslide victory will put pressure on the government of Papua New Guinea to grant Bougainville independence.
The results were announced in the town of Buka by former Irish prime minister Bertie Ahern, chairman of the Bougainville Referendum Commission.
“Now, at least psychologically, we feel liberated,” said John Momis, president of the Autonomous Bougainville Government, who had almost been lost for words when the results were declared on Wednerday afternoon.
In his address at the Hutjena Counting Centre, Momis thanked the people for giving the ABG a clear mandate to consult with the national government on the wishes of the people.
He said that the people have spoken through their votes.
Momis also thanked the PNG government for its commitment to complete the process and he said the end result must be a total and lasting peace for the people of Bougainville.
He said, despite so many problems they had faced in the past, the people of Bougainville had kept their faith in the future of Bougainville as clearly demonstrated by their vote.
He said nearly 98% for Independence was a huge testimony of what the people of Bougainville want for their future.
One Bougainvillean, nursing graduate Alexia Baria, told AFP that “happiness was an understatement”.
“You see my tears – this is the moment we have been waiting for,” she said.
The referendum was non-binding – meaning independence won’t happen automatically. Discussions will take place with the PNG government to decide when – or if – the transition to full independence can begin.
Although the PNG government was against independence, and does not have to accept the result, the huge mandate will make it hard to ignore.
The 98% result is above pre-referendum predictions – most experts expected the figure to be around 75% – 80%.
PNG minister for Bougainville affairs, Puka Temu, said “the outcome is a credible one” – but asked that voters “allow the rest of PNG sufficient time to absorb this result”.