Falklands referendum: A red rag to the Buenos Aires bull

Bill Neely

Former International Editor

Joan Turner casts her vote at the Town Hall polling station in Stanley. Credit: Reuters

Rarely have so few votes made so many international headlines.

The 1,649 people eligible to vote in the Falklands are making their mark in a referendum that's being watched at the United Nations and from Europe to South America.

The question they're being asked is simple; "Do you wish the Falkland Islands to retain their current status as an overseas territory of the United Kingdom? Yes or No."

The result may be a foregone conclusion but the Island's Government - and Britain- hopes it will send a signal.

Jan Cheek, a Falkland Islands Assembly member says:

I'd be very surprised if it's a unanimous yes, only dictatorships get 100% polls. I'm hoping that democratic countries around the world will see it as our democratic wish and recognise that.

Gavin Short, another Assembly member, says:

If it's a large yes vote, then we will be taking those results to the international community and saying, look, if you believe in human rights, if you believe in self-determination, if you believe in the United Nations Charter, this is what our people have said. Please, please respect it.

There wouldn't be a referendum but for pressure from Argentina which says these people aren't really a "people" at all and that there's no such thing as "Falkland Islanders", just British people colonising their islands, the Malvinas.

Argentina is trying to persuade the world that Britain's sovereignty here is illegal and that the islands should be under their control.

In Argentina's capital they're trying to ignore the referendum, as they do the islanders, but they're finding it hard.

"It's a meaningless publicity stunt", says the Government; "a silly game" and "a violation of international law".

But they're frustrated too because, by tomorrow, when the result is announced, Britain will be able to say to the world "the people of the Falklands don't want to be Argentine and here's the proof".

A couple arrive to cast their vote at the Town Hall polling station in Stanley. Credit: Reuters

Argentina wants talks but not with the Falklanders there. This referendum is a red rag to the Buenos Aires bull.

Mario Volpe, a veteran of the war, says "the referendum is just the last throw of the Empire. Britain's colonialism has no place in the 21st century."

31 years after the Argentine invasion there's still tension in the Falklands about the future.

Britain's relations with Argentina are at their worst since the war.

By having their say and making their mark the islanders hope the world will respect their choice and that Argentina's campaign will suffer and die.