Q&A: Falkland islanders referendum

Jeremy Browne and Gavin Short
Image caption Falklands Legislative Assembly chair Gavin Short (left) announced the referendum last June

Falkland islanders will vote on 10-11 March in a referendum on whether they wish to continue as a British Overseas Territory - a move condemned by Argentina which claims sovereignty over the islands. We look at the arrangements and background for the vote.

What is the question Falkland islanders will answer in the referendum?

"Do you wish the Falkland Islands to retain their current political status as an Overseas Territory of the United Kingdom?"

What does that mean?

According to the Falkland Islands Government: "We are not a colony of the United Kingdom; we are a British Overseas Territory by choice, which is something entirely different. We are not governed by Britain: we are entirely self-governing, except for defence and foreign affairs."

What is meant by 'self-governing'?

The 14 remaining British Overseas Territories have varying degrees of autonomy. The Falkland Islands constitution provides for a locally-elected eight-member Legislative Assembly.It stipulates that the Governor appointed by London may make laws for the islands "with the advice and consent of the Legislative Assembly". It also says that the Governor "shall accept" the advice of the Executive Council of three Legislative Assembly members, except in a variety of specified circumstances.

Why is the referendum being held?

Image caption Falkland islanders "do not exist," Argentina's Hector Timerman has said.

The question is preceded by the following explanation: "Under the Falkland Islands Constitution the people of the Falkland Islands have the right to self-determination, which they can exercise at any time.

"Given that Argentina is calling for negotiations over the sovereignty of the Falkland Islands, this referendum is being undertaken to consult the people regarding their views on the political status of the Falkland Islands."

How many people are eligible to vote?

British citizens over 18 out of the population currently put at 2,563. In the 2009 Legislative Assembly election, 1,232 people voted, a turnout of 77.7% of an electorate of 1,586.

What will happen if there is a "No" vote?

According to the Falklands government, it would "undertake further consultation and preparatory work leading to a further referendum on alternative options."

And if it is a "Yes"?

The Falklands government says the islands would retain their current status and keep the right to self-determination, "which would allow the Falkland Islands to review its status at any time. This could include full independence in the future."

And the British government is happy with that?

Yes, according to David Cameron. The prime minister has criticised Buenos Aires for "shouting down the islanders' ability to speak for themselves and punishing them for exercising their own free choice". He said Britain would resolutely support the choice the islanders made in a referendum.

He added: "I have always said it is up to the Falkland Islanders themselves to choose whether they want to be British and that the world should listen to their views."

But the Argentines do not agree?

Image caption Jan Cheek says the islanders are "settlers" - like most people in the Americas

They say the islanders should have no voice in two-way discussions between Britain and Argentina over the future of the islands. Foreign Minister Hector Timerman has said "The Falkland Islanders do not exist. What exists is British citizens who live in the Islas Malvinas (the Spanish name for the Falklands)." He also said trying to involve the islanders in the discussions was "introducing a third party" which amounted to "changing more than 40 resolutions by the United Nations, which call on the two countries to negotiate."

Jan Cheek of the Falklands Legislative Assembly countered: "Mr Timerman dismisses us as 'settlers'. Well, we are settlers. Like countries across the continent of the Americas, we came into existence through waves of settlement from Europe and elsewhere."

What do other countries think about the referendum?

On the dispute between Britain and Argentina over the islands, most countries call for the dispute to be resolved by talks between the two countries, while Latin American organisations such as the Union of South American Nations (Unasur) and the trading bloc Mercosur say they support the "legitimate rights" of Argentina in the dispute.

On the referendum, Unasur issued a declaration at its meeting in Peru last November that the referendum "in no way alters the essence of the Falklands question, and its result will not put an end to the dispute over sovereignty". The declaration said the member states reaffirmed their strong support for the legitimate rights of Argentina in the dispute and called for discussions between London and Buenos Aires "giving due account to the interests of the islands' inhabitants".

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