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New Caledonia’s independence leaders challenge France on final referendum date

The stability of Australia’s close neighbor across the Coral Sea and France’s influence in the region are threatened by a call of the separatist parties not to participate in the final referendum on the independence of New Caledonia if France insists on holding it on December 12. The Melanesian spearhead group called on the United Nations to support the postponement of the vote.

France’s decision to organize the third decisive referendum on the opposition of the separatist parties on 12 December undoubtedly led to the worst result: a call by the separatist coalition, the Kanak and Socialist National Liberation Front (FLNKS), for his supporters not to participate. Under the 1998 Noumea Accord, voting could have taken place at any time until October 2022.

The suggestion of a Kanak boycott is dynamite in New Caledonia. Paris’ painstaking efforts to organize the first two referendums under the current process, in 2018 and 2020, were aimed at delivering an indisputable vote and demonstrating France’s neutrality vis-à-vis the territory and the region.

This was to avoid a repeat of the disastrous independence vote of 1987. The Kanaks, who form the bulk of the independence movement, boycotted this process because France allowed people who were only on the territory to vote. for three years. This follows a decade of French politics encourage migration from other regions of France in particular to exceed the number of natives and overcome claims of independence. With this boycott, the vote unsurprisingly brought back 98% support for staying with France. Tensions intensified and resulted in a bloody hostage-taking in April 1988, between two rounds of the French presidential election. Twenty-one people have died.

No one wants a repeat of the 1987 experience.

With the diminished credibility of the 1987 vote and the suffering of the Caledonian people, the image of France itself has been tarnished. Regional and international pressure mounted. France has negotiated agreements to end the violence and promised the unique three-vote referendum process currently underway.

With a deadline of October next year, the FLNKS preferred a later vote so it could build on the growing support for independence in the previous two referendums, from 43.3% in 2018 to 46. , 7% in 2020, and exceed the required 50%. Loyalist parties have favored early voting, to retain their majority and advance the stagnant economy. When the French Overseas Minister, Sébastien Lecornu, announced the start date of December, he acknowledged that it was a unilateral decision but referred to France’s legal right to set this date. The last meeting of the signatories of the Nouméa Accord (in 2019) agreed that the vote should not coincide with the French presidential and legislative elections in April and June 2022.

When Lecornu went to New Caledonia in early October, the independence leaders have again expressed their concerns, highlighting the serious impact of the Covid-19 pandemic on their communities and the effect on health measures campaigns and cultural mourning customs. New Caledonia recorded no deaths until September 9, 2021, but as of October 21, 245 people had died from Covid out of a population of 280,000. Most were Kanaks.

After Lecornu indicated that the date would only be changed if the pandemic “got out of hand”, the FLNKS renewed its call for postponement and, on October 20, formally called for the “non-participation” of its supporters if the referendum was to be held on the 12th. December. Although they avoided the word “boycott” given its local associations, the impact is the same. On the same day, the representative of Papua New Guinea in New York presented a statement by the Melanesian Spearhead Group to the UN Decolonization Committee noting the effect of the pandemic and supporting the postponement of the referendum.

France’s preparations for this last vote were not as well balanced as for the first two. In addition to the unilateral fixing of the date, Paris sought to shape the process to make it more favorable to France, by neglecting Kanak sensibilities. France called a meeting in May which not all participants attended, commissioned and published selective opinion polls, and prepared a document on the consequences of a “yes” or “no” vote which mainly focused on the risks of independence. With the resurgence of the Covid, France has banned non-essential travel to and from the territory until December 31, after the planned vote. He is bringing in 2,000 security guards, many more than in the last two votes. While France claims that special measures are needed for this inevitably more tense final vote and its uncertain consequences, the overall effect is to appear to favor the loyalists.

The ball is now in France’s court. Melanesian countries have expressed their point of view. The Pacific Islands Forum countries and the UN continue to monitor the referendum, after observing the 2018 and 2020 votes. While Australia is right do not take a position on the result, he supports the full implementation of the Noumea Accord. Australia and its Pacific neighbors would expect France to maintain the neutrality it displayed in the first two referendums by delivering an indisputable and fair vote in this final and decisive referendum on New Zealand independence. -Caledonia.