Pacific News Minute: As Sovereignty Referendum Nears, Splits Develop on Both Sides in New Caledonia

Aug 8, 2018

Credit GeorgeLouis / Wikimedia Commons

With less than three months before New Caledonia’s referendum on independence, splits have developed on both sides, leading to concerns about what happens the day after the vote.

For thirty years, New Caledonia’s politics were guided by the Nouméa Accord. Kanak Melansians agreed to end their insurgency, and settlers (most of them Europeans) agreed to hold a referendum on sovereignty. That vote is now set for November 4th.

The French government called on pro- and anti-independence parties to talk about what happens after the vote and to agree on a document that sets out values shared by all sides, beginning with a commitment to peace.

Three loyalist parties then walked out of the dialogue. The Caledonia Together Party stayed in. According to its leader, Philippe Gomes, his former allies worried that even talking with Kanaks would cost them votes down the road. 

Then the pro-independence Labour Party decided to abstain. It described the referendum as an electoral farce and part of a French plan to lead the Kanak people down a dead end. Labour is a small party, but with opinion polls suggesting that a big majority will vote to stay with France, its argument could find wider support.

Daniel Goa, the head of the larger pro-independence Caledonian Union, said that it was incomprehensible for Kanaks to abandon a 164 year struggle for independence at the last minute.

Nouméa, New Caledonia
Credit Thomas CUELHO / Flickr

Yesterday, the general secretary of the Pacific Council of Churches said the Kanaks had already lost. The Reverend Francois Pihaatae worried that violence could erupt after a vote he described as pointless. “Give back, the sovereignty,” he told RNZ Pacific, “We don’t need to vote for it… the Kanak deserve their sovereignty.”