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Date set for Falkland Islands referendum

BY ALICIA DUNKLEY-WILLIS Observer senior reporter

Wednesday, December 12, 2012

THE date of the all-important referendum to decide the political future of the Falkland Islands and the question to be answered by Islanders has been set.

"We now have a firm date; it will be over two days — the 10th and the 11th of March next year. We are holding it over two days to give people more opportunity to go to the polls," Ian Hansen, an elected member of the Legislative Assembly of the Falklands, told the Jamaica Observer in an interview last week.

The issue of the political status of the self-governed British overseas territory has dominated since the British and Argentine war in 1982 after the Argentines invaded the islands. Since then, Argentina — even though it had retreated and surrendered — has argued that the islands were rightly theirs. However, Britain has held that the Falklanders have a right to determine their status.

That determination, the Legislative Assembly has said, will be done under the scrutiny of a whole series of international observers.

Up to September of this year, however, the question of the referendum and the date had been undecided.

"Just before I came away, we had an expert down; he gave some advice on the preamble before the question and the question itself, and we in the Legislative Assembly came to an agreement as to what we felt was the correct preamble and the correct question," shared Hansen, who was on a tour of several Caribbean islands with the Falkland cricket team.

"Since I have been away there was a public consultation to get the reaction of the people and that was favourable, so I imagine the question now will be as was set. It was a basic yes or no question which said, 'Do you wish to remain a self-governing British Overseas Territory?'," he said.

But with that question now decided, another, often asked, is lingering in the background, he continued.

"There were one or two queries about why we weren't including the choice of Independence in it, but our explanation for that was we felt that was further away; we are doing it one step at a time, we are not ready for Independence yet so we don't want to muddy the waters. We just want to get the self-determination issue out there," Hansen told the Observer.

In the meantime, he said there have been rumblings from the Argentine camp.

"Just this past week since I have been away, apparently they have stepped up the campaign with their ambassador in London to supposedly rubbish the referendum to say to African and Caribbean countries, don't send observers, it's not legal," Hansen said.

The Falkland Islands government, however, has no plans to retort in similar fashion, he said.

"The Falkland Islands government won't respond. We as the elected members can but the Government will remain strictly neutral. When I left we were in the process of getting observers from as many places as we could. We were hoping to get one or two from South America, but whether the Argentine pressure might stop that we don't know," he noted.

That pressure, he said, could change a few dynamics, but not the outcome.

"It won't affect the final number of observers, but it might affect where they came from because we had hoped to get some from South America, Africa and so forth, just so we could have a vast number of observers so no one can say it was rigged," Hansen added.

What happens after the referendum in March 2013?

"Everything will be counted up and the results will be made public,and I hope it will be positive, I can't imagine it being anything else but positive. After that we will take that to the UN to say it is enshrined in your Charter that self-determination is important, and the people in the Falklands have said they want self-determination which is their right," Hansen said.

"We will use it (results) as a tool to encourage those who say we are not worthy of it. We know what we want but we want to show the rest of the world what we want," he added.

And if the worst should come, the Falklands are prepared, he stressed.

"If the majority say no, we actually have in the preamble wording that says if the larger percentage of people say no, the Falkland Islands government will hold another referendum to see where people want to go from there. They will have to say why they said no and what they want to be," Hansen pointed out.

The Falkland Islands, located in the south Atlantic, is home to some 3,000 persons comprising 30 different ethnicities.