After proclaiming that New Caledonians had voted to stay with France in three recent referendums, despite a massive boycott by indigenous parties of the last one, French President Emmanuel Macron’s government now faces hostility and resistance in France’s pre-eminent overseas territory. The pro- and anti-independence sides remain diametrically opposed, along ethnic lines. And, most worryingly, the long-term agreements that have kept the peace have now expired and there’s no agreed form of continued governance beyond the end of the current local congress mandate in early 2024.
French Interior Minister Jean-François Carenco and Overseas French Territories Minister Gerald Darmanin are due to visit New Caledonia next week, to try once more to establish dialogue with all groups: indigenous-dominated parties favouring independence, and primarily European ones favouring staying with France. They face a major challenge.
After 30 years of innovative peace agreements which ended civil unrest in the 1980s, and impressive conduct of the first two of three long-promised independence referendums in 2018 and 2020, France badly handled the third, which took place in December 2021. Despite calls for a postponement by independence parties in late 2021, while indigenous Kanak communities suffered the worst impacts of the Delta variant of Covid-19, France persisted with the December vote, which it could statutorily have delayed until November 2022. With regional support, and having taken the issue to the UN Fourth Committee on Decolonisation, independence parties boycotted the referendum. The result reflected the boycott, with 44% voter turnout (about half of that for the 2020 second referendum), delivering just 3.5% support for independence, in contrast to 43.3% in 2018 and 46.7% in 2020.
While Macron claimed a ‘massive’ victory for the pro-France side just after the 2021 vote, he qualified it by noting the strong abstention. But by mid-2022, in Brussels for a NATO meeting, he told the press that New Caledonians had
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