Two years after the “no” during a first consultation, New Caledonia is called on Sunday to vote on its independence in a referendum. While the first consultation was hailed for its smooth running, the climate now seems less peaceful.

“Do you want New Caledonia to gain full sovereignty and become independent?” Two years later, the question is always the same, short and precise. The 180,000 voters of this French community located in the South Pacific will have to respond in the referendum on Sunday, October 4. The question has structured political life in the archipelago for decades.

November 4, 2018 56.67% of the population refused independence. No poll has been released on what could happen on Sunday. France 24 takes stock of the challenges of this historic election.

• The culmination of a historical process

France took over New Caledonia in 1853. First a penal colony and a place of political exile, the island then became an Overseas Territory (TOM) in 1946, then a French collectivity in 1999.

However, the Kanak community never accepted the French presence and occupation. From 1878, a great revolt against the theft of land broke out and was bloodily suppressed. In the 1980s, we witnessed an increase in violence between the Kanak and Caldoche communities, the descendants of European settlers. The culmination of these tensions is the hostage taking and the assault on the cave ofOuvea in May 1988, in which 19 Kanak militants and six French soldiers were killed.

One month later, on June 26, 1988, the Matignon accords sealed reconciliation between the communities, through economic rebalancing and sharing of political power. The 1998 Nouméa Accord, signed between the State, the anti-independence activists (RPCR) and the separatists (FLNKS) followed, which gave the archipelago a unique status in the French Republic based on progressive autonomy. It also provides for the organization of a series of referendums on independence, the first of which was to take place before December 2018.

While the good conduct of the first ballot had been welcomed by all, the new consultation was organized in a political climate peppered with controversy, in particular on the electorate, the date of the referendum (postponed for a month due to Covid-19), registrations in decentralized polling stations or the use authorized by the State of the tricolor for the official campaign, in derogation of the electoral code. This last point in particular pointed out the FLNKS, which considers that the French state has “taken sides with the non-separatists”.

• What are the arguments of the supporters of independence? ?

In the archipelago, the question of independence structures local political life. The FLNKS, the Socialist Kanak National Liberation Front, represents the independence trend. The party is campaigning for the creation of a state called “Kanaky New Caledonia”, which is “a sovereign, democratic, multicultural and secular country”.

>> To read also: The dream of Kanaky is not dead in New Caledonia

• What are the “no” arguments?

The loyalists constitute a front of six non-independence parties, the main one being Avenir en Confiance (right) but which also includes the RN (far-right). They want to keep the current status, which notably gives Caledonians a French passport and warns against the economic risks that the island would run if it were deprived of financial support from France.

• What is France’s position ?

If the government cannot take a position, since it is responsible for the proper conduct of the ballot, the officials of several parties (LREM, LR, RN and UDI) have expressed their wish to see the Caillou remain French.

“France does not want to lose its anchor point in the PacificDenise Fischer, a former Australian diplomat living in New Caledonia, told Reuters. The archipelago is indeed one of the last bastions of European sovereignty in the area since Brexit. New Caledonia also has vast reserves of nickel.

• Towards a dead end?

In a text on the Outremers 360 site, Pierre-Christophe Pantz, doctor in geopolitics and specialist in political science and electoral geography, analyzes the dynamics at work in the archipelago in the light of the previous referendum.

“This referendum is a continuation of all provincial votes: a double electoral, ethnic and geographical divide, which is verified at all scales of the archipelago”, analyzes Pierre-Christophe Pantz, who sees the opposition between Kanaks and Caldoches to structure the ballot.

“The flip side of thirty years of political balance and stability is the failure in the quest to convince the other camp, to shake up the lines,” he analyzes. “The Kanaks still continue to vote overwhelmingly for independence while the non-Kanaks continue to vote mainly for staying in the French Republic. In both camps, the bet to convince beyond ethnic borders has failed.”

And to make the observation of an impasse: “A victory of the separatists should not make forget that by counting those not having the right to vote in the referendum [le corps électoral retenu pour le référendum excluant de fait 36 000 personnes arrivées après 1994, NDLR], people ‘theoretically’ opposed to independence will still constitute at least half of the Caledonian population. And it is the same if independence fails in the second and third referendums, a not insignificant part of the population, mainly Kanak, will always be viscerally attached to independence “, he notes.

• What will happen the day after the election? ?

Whatever the results, Jean Castex will receive Caledonian political actors the day after the referendum. Emmanuel Macron should quickly speak on the subject, probably from October 5.

If the “yes” were to prevail, it would trigger “the transfer to New Caledonia of sovereign powers, access to an international status of full responsibility and the organization of citizenship into nationality”. The FLNKS wishes, in the event of victory, “a period of transition of three years” to install this new state.

If, on the other hand, the “no” was imposed, the process of decolonization would not stop there. Under the 1998 Noumea Accords, it is planned that up to three referendums on independence can be organized. The third and last could therefore be held, provided that a third of the members of the New Caledonian congress request it. A formality: the separatist parties currently hold 24 seats out of 54.

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