The third and last referendum scheduled for the decolonization of New Caledonia has resulted in a landslide victory of “no” to independence, but with a drop in participation in the face of the call by the independentists to boycott the consultation in the midst of the pandemic of covid-19.
96.49% of voters have spoken in favor of continuing in the French State, but only 43.90% of the more than 180,000 voters who made up the census have gone to the polls.
Independents and “loyalists” have found reasons to claim victory in this result.
The former, mainly Kanakos, native to the Pacific archipelago, have shown their ability to mobilize and have achieved their commitment to reduce participation, within the challenge they posed to the French Government, which denied them their request to delay the consultation while maintaining the pandemic.
They affirmed that they would not recognize the result of the consultation and with the decline in participation they have made their electoral strength clear.
The supporters of staying in the French State, mostly descendants of the French settlers settled in the capital, Noumea, and with a higher standard of living, cling to the result of the referendum, which forces the next steps to be taken on the future archipelago institutions have to take into account maintenance within France.
The French Government, which tried to remain neutral between one and the other, has found that the reality is that the population of New Caledonia is sharply divided.
The independentistas have been gaining ground in recent years. In 2018 the “loyalists” obtained 56.67% of the vote, but their advantage was reduced two years later to 53.26, less than 10,000 votes difference, in both cases with participation rates that touched 80%.
The parties in favor of leaving France control two of the three provinces in which the territory is divided, 18 of the 33 municipalities, the Congress and the autonomous government, which manages all the competences except security, defense, justice and foreign affairs.
They consider that their path towards self-determination must continue and for this they ask for consultations with Paris, although they bet on waiting for the presidential elections in April to negotiate with the new president.
The current one, favorite for re-election, according to the polls, has congratulated that New Caledonia has decided to remain France, but acknowledged that work must be done to solve the discontent of a significant part of the population that advocates independence.
She has ensured that the priorities for the coming years are to reduce inequalities, improve the economy of the archipelago, which is highly dependent on its nickel reserves, create a growth model “respectful of nature”, improve the situation of women and preserve New Caledonia from the current “strong tensions” in the region, marked by Chinese ambitions.
But the French Government is aware that self-determination is a path of no return and, for this reason, it has already promised not to remove New Caledonia from the UN list of territories to be decolonized.
George Holan is chief editor at Plainsmen Post and has articles published in many notable publications in the last decade.