New Cale­do­nia votes against in­de­pen­dence

Cyprus Today - - WORLD -

THE South Pa­cific ar­chi­pel­ago of New Cale­do­nia voted against in­de­pen­dence from France on Sun­day in a long-awaited ref­er­en­dum that capped a 30-year-long de­coloni­sa­tion process.

A “yes” vote would have de­prived Paris of a foothold in the Indo-Pa­cific re­gion where China is ex­pand­ing its pres­ence, and dented the pride of a for­mer colo­nial power whose reach once spanned the Caribbean, subSa­ha­ran Africa and the Pa­cific Ocean.

Based on pro­vi­sional re­sults and with a par­tic­i­pa­tion rate of nearly 80 per cent, the “No” vote stood at 56.9 per cent, lo­cal TV sta­tion NC La 1ère re­ported on its web­site.

“The New Cale­do­nians have cho­sen to re­main French. It is a vote of con­fi­dence in the French repub­lic, its fu­ture and its val­ues,” Pres­i­dent Em­manuel Macron said in a speech on French tele­vi­sion.

The ref­er­en­dum was the first auto-de­ter­mi­na­tion vote to be held in a French ter­ri­tory since Dji­bouti in the Horn of Africa voted for in­de­pen­dence in 1977.

Vot­ers in the largely self-gov­ern­ing ter­ri­tory had been asked the ques­tion, “Do you want New Cale­do­nia to gain full sovereignty and be­come in­de­pen­dent?”

Ten­sions have long run deep be­tween pro-in­de­pen­dence indige­nous Kanaks and de­scen­dants of colo­nial set­tlers who re­main loyal to Paris. Over the past decade, re­la­tions be­tween the two groups have im­proved markedly but the “no” vote out­come was well be­low some early polls, which could en­cour­age na­tion­al­ists to try for a new ref­er­en­dum in com­ing years.

Some 175,000 out of the 280,000 peo­ple liv­ing on the ar­chi­pel­ago were el­i­gi­ble to vote, with polls show­ing ear­lier in the week that the is­lands were ex­pected to vote to re­main a French ter­ri­tory.

Posters call­ing for a “no” vote said that “France is the only chance” while pro­po­nents of in­de­pen­dence called in their posters to vote for “a mul­ti­cul­tural, in sol­i­dar­ity, peace­ful na­tion”.

Dur­ing a visit to the ar­chi­pel­ago in May, Mr Macron ac­knowl­edged the “pains of coloni­sa­tion” and saluted the “dig­ni­fied” cam­paign for au­ton­omy led by the Kanaks. He and his ad­min­is­tra­tion sought to strike a neu­tral tone on the vote.

New Cale­do­nia’s econ­omy is un­der­pinned by French an­nual sub­si­dies of some 1.3 bil­lion eu­ros, nickel de­posits that are es­ti­mated to rep­re­sent 25 per cent of the world’s to­tal, and tourism.

It en­joys a large de­gree of au­ton­omy but de­pends heav­ily on France for mat­ters such as de­fence and ed­u­ca­tion. A 1998 deal pro­vided for a ref­er­en­dum on in­de­pen­dence to be held by the end of 2018.

Un­der the terms of that deal, in the event of a no vote two fur­ther ref­er­enda can be held be­fore 2022.

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