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Marape spooked by Bougainville ‘feelgood factor’

Marape in Bougainville (Post-Courier)
James Marape in Bougainville last month (Post-Courier)

RICHARD EWART
| ABC Pacific Beat | Edited extracts

MELBOURNE - The overwhelming vote for independence in Bougainville, and now the election of a new president for the autonomous region, appears to have spooked Papua New Guinea's prime minister, James Marape.

He has raised the possibility of a change to the constitution to prevent any other PNG province from promoting the subject of independence or autonomy.

"Whoever talks about independence they will be charged with sedition. We will pass this law so that other parts of the country must not talk about autonomy or independence. Bougainville is special," he said.

Constitutional lawyer Dr Bal Kama believes the prime minister is trying to achieve a balancing act.

"I think he's aware of existing demands as well in other provinces, and that he's trying to balance that with the greater need for PNG to be united, to avoid any fragmentation from within," Mr Kama said.

"At the same time, those debates playing out affect conversations on Bougainville, so by providing that assurance, I think that could be a way to minimise opposition to discussions about Bougainville's future.

Dr Kama believes Marape would be open to a degree of economic independence in the provinces, but nothing more than that.

"Marape's announcement is providing a clearer path towards what Papa New Guinea should look like in the future, if those reforms go ahead," he said.

“He's setting a clear boundary that that shouldn't amount to any claim for political autonomy or independence.

Annmaree O'Keeffe, for many years head of the AusAID program in PNG, argues that Marape certainly doesn't want the Bougainville ‘feelgood factor’ spilling over into other provinces.

"I can understand Marape's concern, I'm sure O'Neill had similar concerns, any prime minister would.

“It's not good to lose part of your country on your watch, and particularly if it's a part of the country that potentially contributes significantly to the broader country's income," Ms O'Keeffe told Pacific Beat.

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