During World War II, the area of Bougainville in the Pacific Islands became part of U.S. Marine history as part of America’s island-hopping strategy that led to almost two years of fighting against Japan on the islands in the name of freedom.
Seventy-five years later, the 250,000 people of Bougainville are going to the polls to vote on whether the tiny island should become the world’s newest nation or continue to be part of nearby Papua New Guinea, according to Fox News.
Voting, which will last two weeks due to the rough terrain of the country, began Saturday.
The decision to have a vote on independence was agreed upon in 2001 when a peace agreement ended a civil war that claimed 15,000 lives.
Officials do not expect troubles in the election process.
Joyous voters in the Pacific island chain of Bougainville cheer and sing as they flock to the polls at the start of a long-awaited referendum on independence from Papua New Guinea https://t.co/FHMyMZGc8X pic.twitter.com/nMQvDrQAH9
— AFP news agency (@AFP) November 23, 2019
“They’ve been waiting 19 years for this historic moment,” Gianluca Rampolla of the United Nations said. “I think they will be left with joy.”
“There are people coming on boats,” Rampolla said. “There are people walking. It’s the rainy season. There are rough seas. Flexibility is needed to adjust on the ground.”
John Momis, president of the Autonomous Region of Bougainville, said the island can have a brighter future because of the referendum.
“We are trailblazers forging a new path into the unknown with the sheer determination to face any challenge that comes our way,” he said. “We will face this together as one people and one voice to decide our ultimate political future.”
Momis said the vote is a time of joy, according to The Guardian.
“It’s obvious that the people are now in the mood for celebration and I join them as they have every right to celebrate,” Momis told a media conference. “This is a forecast or beginning of good things to come if we collaborate and work as trusted partners to implement something that both parties have contributed to.”
The Guardian quoted a youth leader it identified only as Raymond speaking about the importance of the referendum to the young people of the island.
“This is something we’ve wanted and accepted for a long time,” Raymond said.
“Our elders have often spoken about the good times when Bougainville was thriving economically because of our resources … but we the youth have never known that life,” he said. “This is our reality, this is our hardship. And we are hoping that this vote will take us back to those ‘good times.'”
The vote is non-binding, however. The legislators in Papua New Guinea’s parliament will negotiate with leaders from Bougainville and make the final decision on Bougainville’s independence.
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