Bougainville vote favours independence from Papua New Guinea

CANBERRA, AUSTRALIA (AP) — The South Pacific region of Bougainville voted overwhelmingly to become the world’s newest nation by gaining independence from Papua New Guinea, results showed yesterday.

Bougainville Referendum Commission Chairman Bertie Ahern was cheered when he announced that more than 98 per cent of valid ballots favoured independence.

The only other option in the vote was greater autonomy from Papua New Guinea. The referendum is non-binding, and independence would then need to be negotiated between leaders from Bougainville and Papua New Guinea.

The final say would then go to lawmakers in the Papua New Guinea Parliament.

The process of becoming a separate nation could take years to achieve.

Papua New Guinea Prime Minister James Marape’s office said he was out of town and was not available for comment.

Around 85 per cent of eligible voters cast more than 181,000 ballots in two weeks of voting.

Upe members vote at a men-only voting booth in the Bougainville referendum in Teau, Bougainville. PHOTO: AP