Home stretch for New Caledonia, a strategic territory of 270,000 inhabitants in the Pacific, which must decide on Sunday in a second self-determination referendum whether it remains French or chooses independence.
In this archipelago 18,000 kilometers from Paris, French since 1853 and which represents one of the last bastions of European sovereignty in the area after Brexit, a first ballot on November 4, 2018 saw the pro-French win by 56 , 7% of the votes.
Nearly 180,000 voters in the territory, which has large nickel reserves, will have to say again if they want “for New Caledonia to achieve full sovereignty and become independent.”
This referendum, like the first, is part of a process of decolonization that began in 1988 after several years of violence between the Kanak, the first people, and the Caldoches, of European origin. These clashes culminated in the hostage-taking and the assault on Ouvea cave in May 1988 (25 dead).
The Matignon agreements, signed in June 1988 by the Kanak independentist Jean-Marie Tjibaou and the loyalist Jacques Lafleur, consolidated ten years later by the Nouméa agreement, instituted an economic and geographical rebalancing in favor of the Kanaks and a sharing of political power, even if social inequalities remain significant.
The consultation, the result of which will be known on Sunday evening (Sunday morning in metropolitan France), will take place without barrier or mask measures, since the archipelago is free from Covid-19, thanks to a drastic reduction in international flights and a mandatory quarantine for everything. arriving. “The virus, we don’t even think about it anymore. People are more worried about the results of the referendum than about the Covid, “Hugues Bourgeois, a general practitioner, told AFP.
A few days before the election, supporters of French New Caledonia repeatedly marched through Noumea in a procession of cars, waving tricolor flags. Independence activists also demonstrated, by car, on foot or in boats, with Kanak flags.
Thursday, during the last meetings, the separatists of the FLNKS (Socialist Kanak National Liberation Front) called for a yes “for dignity”, the Loyalists (front of six non-independence parties) for a “no” to “chaos” .
“Stirring up hatred”
“Whether yes or no wins”, Viannick, 46, wants to be “serene”. “Here in Koumac (North), we have always lived together”. But she finds that “this referendum is a disaster. Each side spends its time criticizing the other. They are stirring up hatred. “
While the first ballot was greeted by all, the new consultation was marked by controversy, in particular on the electorate, the date of the referendum, registrations in decentralized polling stations …
No poll has been carried out, but observers deem a ‘yes’ victory unlikely. “The majority will not change,” the president of the Caledonian government Thierry Santa (loyalist) predicted to AFP, “everyone knows there will be no changeover on Sunday. The whole question will be knowing the extent of the gap “between the two camps.
This gap (18,000 votes in 2018) could narrow. “There are places where we can still go and seek non-voters (33,000)”, in particular “in the Loyalty Islands”, very favorable to the independence camp, according to geopolitical doctor Pierre-Christophe Pantz.
Maintained impartiality, President Emmanuel Macron will not speak until the day after the referendum. In 2018, he stressed that “France would be less beautiful without New Caledonia”.
Prime Minister Jean Castex said he would bring together “Caledonian political actors the day after” the consultation.
According to the Noumea accord, if the “no” wins, a third referendum is possible by 2022. An option that loyalists are already rejecting.