New Caledonia Rejects Independence from France but Margin Narrows from 2018 Referendum

New Caledonia Rejects Independence from France but Margin Narrows from 2018 Referendum

New Caledonia has held its second independence from France in less than two years, with the “No” camping preventing once again, though by a narrower margin. Photo: TV grab from France24

The Pacific island archipelago of New Caledonia has rejected becoming independence from France in a referendum held on Sunday, October 3, 2020.

A majority of the residents of New Caledonia thus voted in favor of remaining part of France in a second independence referendum in less than two years – it last held an independence referendum in November 2018.

A total of 53.3% of the voters who cast their ballot voted against independence from France, according to full provisional results from New Caledonia’s high commission, as cited by France24.

An hour before the voting ended, the voter turnout was about 80%, six points higher than back in 2018. Subsequently, the final turnout was announced at 86%.

Thus, the “no” camp has triumphed again but its margin has dwindled: back in November 2018 it won New Caledonia’s first independence referendum with 56.4% of the votes, a decline of roughly 3 percentage points.

In a speech from the Elysee Palace on Monday, French President Emmanuel Macron welcomed “with a deep feeling of gratitude” and “humility” the results from New Caledonia’s second independence referendum rejecting the Pacific island archipelago’s proposed independence from Metropolitan France.

Macron also construed the referendum results as “sign of confidence in the [French] republic”.

However, the fact that independence from France has been rejected with a narrow majority has paved the way for the possibility of holding a third independence referendum in New Caledonia, according to France24.

Under the 1998 Noumea Accord, New Caledonia is allowed to hold up to three referendums for independence from France by 2022. Photo: TV grab from France24

New Caledonia, an archipelago in the South Pacific, has been a French possession since 1853. It has a territory of about 18,600 square kilometers, and a population of about 270,000 people.

With its status of a special collectivity of France, New Caledonia is located some 17,000 kilometer away from Metropolitan France, between Australia and Fiji.

New Caledonia’s archipelago is part of the region of Melanesia. Its largest island is Grande Terre, and it also includes the Loyalty Islands, the Chesterfield Islands, the Belep Archipelago, the Isle of Pines, and several smaller islets.

Its residents are full-fledged citizens of France, and as such have the right to vote in the French presidential and parliamentary elections, and the elections for the European Parliament. New Caledonia is represented in the French Parliament by two deputies and two senators.

New Caledonia is one of the 17 non-self-governing territories of the UN.

New Caledonia’s economy is based on the production of metals, especially nickel, and tourism. It is subsidized by France with about EUR 1.5 billion per year, which is roughly 15% of the territory’s GDP.

The main proponent of independence has been the pro-independence Kanak and Socialist National Liberation Front (FLNKS). French Prime Minister Jean Castex plans to talk to all the main actors in the aftermath of the poll.

The native Kanaks represent about 40% of the archipelago’s population, while about one-third of its people are Europeans most born in the territory. The rest of the inhabitants are of mixed heritage or come from other Pacific islands.

In the 1980s, New Caledonia saw outbursts of violence as the indigenous Kanaks sought independence opposed by the descendants of European settlers.

The ensuing political efforts resulted in a roadmap for greater autonomy for New Caledonia stipulated in several agreements including the Noumea Accord signed in 1998.

The location of France’s New Caledonia archipelago in Melanesia in the South Pacific, halfway between Australia and Fiji. Map: Google Maps

Under the Noumea Accord, New Caledonia is allowed up to three referendums on independence.

Thus, New Caledonia can hold a third referendum for independence from France by 2022 if it is requested by a third of the local assembly.

The last former colonies to gain independence from France were Djibouti in East Africa back in 1977, and the Pacific island of Vanuatu in 1980.