Thursday, May 28, 2020

Bougainville Independence Update: Is Bougainville a Country Yet?

Where is Bougainville island located? Map of Bougainville's location within Papua New Guinea.
Bougainville (in red) is currently part of Papua New Guinea.
(Modified from a public-domain UN map)

Is Bougainville Independent Yet?

Late last year, the South Pacific island region of Bougainville voted overwhelmingly for independence from Papua New Guinea, in a carefully-planned and agreed-upon referendum.

So five months later, is Bougainville a country now? The short answer is no - at least not yet.

Learn More: What is Bougainville, and why is it seeking independence?

Flag of Bougainville
Short Name:
• Bougainville (English) 
• Bogenvil (Tok Pisin)
Full Official Name:
• Autonomous Region of Bougainville (English) 
• otonomos region bilong Bogenvil (Tok Pisin)
Buka (interim)
• Arawa (traditional; inactive)
Status: Autonomous region within Papua New Guinea

Update on the Bougainville Independence Process

As we discussed in our Bougainville referendum explainer article last year, a YES vote in the referendum was never intended to result in immediate independence. Instead, it would trigger the start of a negotiation process in which Papua New Guinea's parliament would have the final say on whether Bougainville can declare independence and become a separate country.

The beginnings of that process got started in March, but with Bougainville headed into local elections, including for its next president, the main phase of the talks isn't set to start until the region's newly elected government is in place. Those elections were originally set to happen in June, but have now been postponed until August due to the coronavirus pandemic.

When will we know if Bougainville is getting independence?

Once the new Bougainvillean government is in office by September, the talks with Papua New Guinea's national government will begin in earnest. They're planned to last for one year, meaning that the Papua New Guinean parliament probably won't vote to approve or deny Bougainville's independence until late 2021.

If the final agreement and parliamentary vote does agree with the results of last year's referendum, it could still be months or years more before Bougainville actually declares independence, depending on what preparations still need to be made. A plan and timeline for the process would likely be in place by then, but hasn't been hashed out yet at this time.

Want to know how it all turns out? Stay tuned to PolGeoNow for more Bougainville updates! You can check for new articles by viewing all Bougainville updates.

Graphic of the Bougainvillean flag is in the public domain (source).