New Caledonia rejects split from France in vote marred by boycott | New Caledonia


Residents of the Pacific territory of New Caledonia have voted overwhelmingly to stay a part of France in a referendum boycotted by pro-independence teams.

Within the third referendum on the matter, the choice to remain inside the French republic was carried by 96.49% to three.51%, however a turnout of simply over 40% steered the indigenous Kanak folks haven’t given up on desires of independence.

The French president, Emmanuel Macron, stated after the outcome that the territory would stay French and hailed it as a powerful affirmation of France’s position in the Indo-Pacific, however introduced negotiations on the territory’s future standing.

“A interval of transition is starting. Free from the binary selection of sure or no, we should now construct a standard venture, whereas recognising and respecting the dignity of everybody,” he stated.

The professional-independence Kanak and Socialist Liberation Entrance (FLNKS) had referred to as for indigenous Kanaks to not take part in the vote, arguing that Covid – which has disproportionately affected Kanak and Pasifika communities – had made pro-independence campaigning inconceivable, as complete villages observe customary mourning rites.

Participation figures clearly point out that the decision to boycott was heeded, and so they have been notably low in independence-supporting indigenous areas, the place safety forces maintained checkpoints at many polling stations and queues have been sparse.

Within the Belep Islands, the place the inhabitants is fully Kanak, nobody went to vote. At a polling station in the territory’s capital, Nouméa, for relocated Belep Islanders to vote, simply six out of a registered 200 folks did so.

“It’s quite simple,” stated Roland Berlo, 58, on the polling station. “The Kanak folks have been requested to not vote, and the slogan was adopted. We didn’t vote as a result of we’re in mourning. The Kanak persons are very united, in the north, in the south, in the islands. It has all the time been so.”

Queues exterior polling cubicles have been by distinction lengthy in the predominantly white and rich southern districts of Nouméa after polling opened at 7am on Sunday.

“I didn’t go to vote and I cannot at this time,” stated Bernard Christian, 40, a Kanak inhabitant of Mont-Dore, a city near Nouméa. “I cannot vote, in signal of solidarity with all of the Kanak group and since the indigenous folks have a proper to independence.”

French police patrol the Baie de l’Orphelinat, in the south of Nouméa, New Caledonia.
French police patrol the Baie de l’Orphelinat, in the south of Nouméa, New Caledonia. {Photograph}: Dominique Catton/The Guardian

Lots of the folks of Saint-Louis, a predominantly Kanak village, agreed. “Right here in my village everybody respects the boycott and we’re extra preoccupied by the cyclone approaching Monday than by the vote,” stated Adolphe Wamytan, a Saint-Louis resident.

“I hope all people will respect the non-violence name, as a result of we don’t wish to give the French militaries the chance to exhibit their energy of repression. This referendum doesn’t resolve something: we the indigenous folks should be there and united for what’s subsequent and the negotiations to come back, we’ll by no means quit the concept of independence.”

It was the third referendum on whether or not New Caledonia ought to turn out to be impartial from France. In 2018, 43% voted for independence, and in 2020 this rose to 47%, and the participation fee was greater than 85%.

Fears have been raised of violence after the most recent vote, and over the previous month 2,000 French navy officers had arrived in New Caledonia, together with armoured autos and navy tools. On election day the sale of alcohol was prohibited, in addition to the sale of retail gasoline, and the transport of ammunition and arms – comparable to weapons historically used for searching and machetes for chopping wooden and coconuts – was additionally forbidden.

Sonia Backès, a pro-France campaigner, hailed the outcome as a “nice victory”, including: “We’re French, we’ll stay it and it isn’t negotiable.”

FLNKS leaders argued earlier than the vote that the outcome can be questionable if there was no full participation of Kanaks, and referred to as for it to be delayed, however France refused.

Votes being counted in Nouméa
The referendum on independence from France is the third and last vote on the difficulty. {Photograph}: Dominique Catton/The Guardian

“It’s merely inconceivable for us to marketing campaign and organise this referendum due to all of the mourning that we’re present process,” stated Johanyto Wamytan, a Kanak and pro-independence activist for the Union Calédonienne occasion.

“The customized of mourning is absolutely essential for the Kanak folks. It’s a time when the chiefs of clans can meet for a number of weeks to resume alliances and preserve the customized alive. The tomb is closed and completed solely after a 12 months. I misplaced a vital cousin throughout this disaster. We couldn’t do the customized. After I go to folks to speak in regards to the referendum as a politician, they refuse to obtain me.”

Different Pacific leaders had backed requires the vote to be delayed, together with the Pacific Elders’ Voice, a bunch of former presidents and prime ministers of Pacific nations, who wrote to Macron urging him “to respect the desires of indigenous leaders in New Caledonia who’ve referred to as for the deferral of the third independence referendum because of a spike in Covid-related deaths.”

A delegation made up of three Kanak leaders left for New York on Tuesday to specific this opposition to the UN normal meeting.

The French minister of abroad territories, Sébastien Lecornu, who arrived in the archipelago on Friday, stated the Nouméa settlement – the textual content that specifies the method of decolonisation – “involves an finish” and that Monday would mark the beginning of a “transition interval” in direction of a brand new standing for the territory.

“The primary political lesson is that the territory remains to be as divided, block towards block, and now we have now the obligation to get out of this binary scenario,” he stated.