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New Caledonia votes on Saturday in a second referendum on its independence. At midday, participation was up sharply compared to the previous consultation in 2018, standing at 49.4%. Two years ago, the first referendum saw the “no” win at 56.7%.
The polling stations in New Caledonia, a strategic archipelago of 270,000 inhabitants in the South Pacific, opened on Sunday, October 4, for a second referendum intended to choose between France and independence. At 5 p.m., participation was up sharply to 79.63%, according to figures from the High Commission. That is 6 points more than during the first referendum which, on November 4, 2018, saw the “No” win by 56.7%.
Nearly 180,598 voters from this French archipelago, colonized in 1853 and having significant nickel reserves, have until 6 p.m. (9 a.m. in Paris) to go to one of the 304 polling stations and say ‘ they want “New Caledonia to gain full sovereignty and become independent”.
Located 18,000 km from Paris, this territory represents one of the last bastions of European sovereignty in the area after Brexit.
Referendum in New Caledonia: details from Nathalie Nouzières, editor-in-chief of Overseas the 1st
“The first thing we want for our country is peace”
“I arrived at 8:30 am and it is 11:00 am, we have not returned yet, but for the dignity of the country, we are waiting,” explains Chanié, a Kanak from Lifou, in an orange dress and headdress made of corn husk. “My choice is ‘yes’, because I want to be free, and I want those who are going to lead our country, to be our children, and no longer France”.
Even before the offices opened, Daniela was waiting at 7:30 am in front of the polling stations set up in the Vallée des Colons, a multiethnic district of Nouméa. “I vote ‘no’ because France has always been there for us, it will remain so, I hope,” she added. But whatever the outcome, “the first thing we want for our country is peace.”
The electorate of this ballot being conditioned on several criteria, all the inhabitants of Caillou cannot express themselves. For this, it is indeed necessary to justify a continuous residence in New Caledonia since at least December 31, 1994, to be a native of the archipelago, or to fall under the customary Kanak civil status.
Christophe, 57, whose parents and grandparents were born on Le Caillou, came with his whole family. “Every voice counts”, insists this Caldoche (part of the population mainly of European origin, settled in New Caledonia for at least one or two generations), who “insists on his French passport”. According to him, “New Caledonia is not ready to be financially independent”. He fears in particular that independence means a “tax increase on property, when we do not have large salaries”.
“I hear the economic arguments which say that it is dangerous economically”, but “I will vote ‘yes’ for independence, because these are the conditions of civil peace”, estimates Guillaume Berger, another Caldoche. “Our presence here will be called into question if we are not able to build independence with the Kanaks.”
Decolonization process started in 1988
The consultation, the result of which will be known on Sunday evening (Sunday morning in metropolitan France), takes place without any barrier or mask. The archipelago is free from Covid-19, thanks to a drastic reduction in international flights and a mandatory quarantine for all arrivals.
This referendum, like the first, is part of a process of decolonization started in 1988 by the Matignon chords. No poll has been carried out, but observers deem a “yes” victory unlikely, with a gap (18,000 votes in 2018) between the two camps which could narrow.
Held to impartiality, French President Emmanuel Macron will speak after the result, Sunday at 1 p.m. from the Elysee Palace. In May 2018, he stressed that “France would be less beautiful without New Caledonia”.
For his part, Prime Minister Jean Castex will bring together “the Caledonian political players the day after” the consultation. If the “no” wins, a third referendum is possible by 2022. An option that the loyalists already refuse but that the separatists say they want to implement very quickly.