The last of the 1,650 voters in the Falkland Islands were casting their ballots today in a referendum aimed at showing Argentina and the rest of the outside world that they are determined to remain a British overseas territory.
There are just 2,563 residents, but they have been doing all they can to show their sympathies, waving Union flags and dressing up their off-road vehicles in red-white-and-blue.
“The referendum will show the world how we feel, that we are British and that we wish to remain British.
We don’t want to have nothing to do with Argentina, at all,” islander Barry Nielson said as he voted.
Election observer Juan Henao said the process has been completely normal, and that more than 70% of the voters had cast their ballots by this afternoon. Polls were closing at 6pm local time (9pm GMT), and the results were expected to be announced later.
The ballot asks a simple yes-or-no question: “Do you wish the Falkland Islands to retain their current political status as an Overseas Territory of the United Kingdom?”
Most islanders interviewed said they expect an overwhelming “Yes” vote.
They were not given a choice in this ballot for any alternatives, such as full independence or some sort of political relationship with Argentina. The Falkland Islands Government said that in the hypothetical case of a majority for “no,” they could explore alternatives in a second vote later.
The government barred from voting any visiting contractors or personnel from the sizeable British military deployment, as well as anyone who has not resided in the islands for the last 12 months, thus excluding several people with islander status who have chosen to live in Argentina.
Argentines consider the “Islas Malvinas” to be part of their national territory, taken from them by the British more than 180 years ago.
The islands’ community, which includes families that have worked the land for nine generations, is steeped in British culture.
But islanders have worried that British support is not guaranteed. They well remember that Britain was preparing to hand over the islands to Argentina before the military government in Buenos Aires occupied them in 1982, prompting a war that killed 907 people.
Defending them ever since by staffing a large military garrison 8,000 miles from London has been a costly sore point for Britons facing austerity measures.
Argentina maintains that the islanders have no voice in a dispute that must be settled bilaterally, with Britain alone. The islanders hope the referendum will help them keep any deal off the table – and perhaps even persuade neutral nations such as the United States to come down on their side.
Two Falkland Islands MPs were already on their way to Washington, preparing to hand-deliver the results of an overwhelming “yes” vote to the US Congress.
“Self-determination is what the United States was founded on and it is a fundamental right. It’s a right that they recognise. So I would hope that they would listen to what’s happening here today,” said another member of the islands’ legislative assembly, Dick Sawle.