What is the Referendum?

A referendum is a vote by people to decide on a singe political issue. It is a way to inform and make decisions about very important issues.

A referendum on Bougainville’s political future is guaranteed by the Bougainville Peace Agreement (BPA), signed by the Government of Papua New Guinea and Bougainville leaders. A referendum is a commonly used democratic process to decide on a question or issue. It’s like an election, but instead of candidates there is a question. For the Bougainville referendum this question was set by the two governments of Papua New Guinea and Bougainville:

Do you agree for Bougainville to have: Greater Autonomy; or Independence?

Like elections, the referendum had a ballot paper, ballot boxes, polling places, polling officials, scrutineers and observers. There are many types of referendum processes. The BPA defines the Bougainville referendum as ‘non-binding’, subject to ratification (final decision-making) by the National Parliament of Papua New Guinea. This means that the option receiving the most votes is not necessarily the final decision.

The following agreed text by the two governments was included on the referendum ballot paper regarding the steps or process after the referendum electoral process:

  1. Eligible people of Bougainville will vote in the referendum
  2. National Government and the ABG will consult
  3. National Parliament will make the final decision.

The two governments also provided a ballot paper preamble:

“The outcome of the referendum on the future political status of Bougainville, will be discussed by both governments (the Government of Papua New Guinea and ABG), and will be presented to the National Parliament for final decision making in accordance with the Bougainville Peace Agreement and the National Constitution.”