Pacific News Minute: New Caledonia's Congress in Chaos Ahead of Independence Vote
Over the past few weeks, the political situation in the French Pacific territory of New Caledonia has been in flux as one of the larger anti-independence parties broke up and its deputies joined other parties in the local assembly or decided to sit as independents. As we hear from Neal Conan in today’s Pacific News Minute, the switches leave the congress in confusion as it prepares to organize a referendum on independence.
Under the Noumea Accord of 1998, the New Caledonian government must set up the vote no later than 2018, or the French Government will step in to do it. After elections last year, the anti-independence parties hold almost 60% of the seats, but bitter disputes among them prevented the selection of a president for nearly three months.
The party that broke up last week is called the Union for Caledonia within France...the prime beneficiary appears to be the Republicans, themselves the remnant of the once dominant Ressemblement-UMP. Among other issues, the anti-independence parties disagree on dialogue with the pro-independence coalition, the Kanak and Socialist Liberation Front. The Melanesian Kanaks are the largest single group in the islands, but 40% of the population overall. The Kanak independence movement is recognized by the Melanesian Spearhead Group, whose full members also include Vanuatu, Fiji, Papua-New Guinea and the Solomon Islands.
New Caledonia was placed on the United Nations de-colonization list in 1986, but rejected independence by a wide margin in 1987. After sometimes violent protest, France agreed to the Noumea Accord, which provides for a gradual transfer of powers to local government and a new referendum no later than 2018.