New Caledonia says no to independence for a second time
Voters in New Caledonia have narrowly rejected independence for a second time in two years, choosing instead to remain with France.
- Results show 53.26 per cent of people voted ‘No’ in the referendum
- More than 46 per cent cast their ballot for ‘Yes’, a stronger result than the previous referendum in 2018
- French President Emmanuel Macron said a third referendum on independence “was possible”
Provisional results released by the French Government show 53.26 per cent of people voted No in Sunday’s independence referendum, while 46.74 per cent cast their ballot for Yes — with approximately 10,000 votes separating the two sides.
It was a stronger result for the Yes camp than the previous referendum in 2018, where 43.33 per cent of voters supported independence.
A higher than expected voter turnout saw long queues outside some polling booths, with some people waiting up to an hour to cast their vote.
An increase in voter participation by more than 4 per cent compared to 2018 seemed to favour the Yes campaign, with a rise in the pro-independence vote corresponding with a rise in voters in most districts.
Ethnic and geographic divisions persisted in this year’s vote, with regions with a higher population of indigenous Kanak favouring independence, as was the case in 2018.
Meanwhile, in areas with a higher concentration of people with European decent, people were more likely to vote to remain with France.
Both winners and losers celebrate results
As results were announced late on Sunday (local time), pro-independence leaders and their supporters burst into celebration in apparent defiance of their loss.
“My first reaction is one of great joy,” said Aloisio Sako, a pro-independence leader, pointing to a 4-point increase in the Yes vote compared to 2018.
“Once again we have progressed. For us this is like a victory”.
Mr Sako attributed the increase to the younger generation that he said mobilised in greater numbers for the Yes campaign.
In the No camp, at a bar overlooking the marina in a chic part of capital Noumea, more modest celebrations were underway among anti-independence voters.
They gathered under French flags to applaud a second vote in their favour.
“I’m positive with this result of the vote, because I’m aware the majority of Caledonians wish to remain with France,” said anti-independence politician Carl N’Guela.
Sunday’s vote is the latest step in a long journey toward New Caledonia’s decolonisation, that was first triggered more than 30 years’ ago when the territory fell into a bloody civil conflict between pro-independence activists, French loyalists, and the French state.
It is the second of three possible independence referenda as outlined by a 1998 peace deal called the Noumea Accord.
‘Vive La France’
In an address to the nation following the vote, French president Emmanuel Macron said a third referendum on independence “was possible,” and that France would impartially support the process no matter the scenario.
“We know today that we are at a crossroads,” Mr Macron said.
Paris has signalled an increased focus on the Indo-Pacific region, and many see its Pacific territories, like New Caledonia, as a key part of that strategy.
France’s ability to counter China’s rise in the region has also featured in campaign material by anti-independence groups in the lead up to yesterday’s referendum, revealing the larger geo-political issues influencing voters at the polls.
Electoral officials and international observers reported a peaceful and secure vote throughout the day.
If approved by a majority in congress, New Caledonia will hold the third and final referendum by 2022.