Residents of New Caledonia, affected by the COVID-19 pandemic, are expected to decide on the independence of their region on December 12. However, there are appeals to postpone this date. Supporters of independence argue that the referendum day set by the authorities in Paris is in fact “a declaration of war on the Kanak people.”
“This wicked decision is a political provocation and undermines any possibility of dialogue about the country’s future,” wrote the Palik Politburo, one of the two main branches of the National Front and the Kanak Socialist Liberation (FLNKS), in a statement, which calls for the referendum to be postponed due to the COVID pandemic. 19.
“State resistance … may create a situation of dangerous tension for civil peace,” warned the Palik, whose leader Paul Neaoutyine is the president of the Northern Province.
The process of decolonization
The High Commissioner of the (French) Republic in New Caledonia, Patrice Faure, announced on Friday during an official visit to the separatist-ruled region that the government had decided to hold the referendum deadline on December 12.
Radio France Info said on Friday that French President Emmanuel Macron had made the decision to keep the scheduled schedule late on Thursday.
The referendum is part of a three-decade-long process of decolonization to resolve tensions in the archipelago between the indigenous Kanak peoples (over 40 percent of the population) advocating full independence and those wishing to maintain formal ties with France.
The December independence referendum will be the last of the three to be conducted until 2022 under the agreement signed in 1998, known as the Numea agreement.
The mourning population
The FLNKS independence group has announced that it will not take part in the referendum and will not recognize the referendum, claiming that it is impossible to “conduct an honest campaign” and that the “Kanak people have mourned”. As reported by the daily Le Monde, 272 people have died due to COVID-19 since the pandemic hit the archipelago in September, half of them Kanak. More than 11,000 people have been infected with the coronavirus.
As part of the 1998 decolonization process of the Numea Agreement, which provided for three referenda, two were held in 2018 and 2020. As a result, independence was rejected by a majority of 56.7 percent, and then by 53.3 percent. votes.
Only those on a special electoral list who must prove their continuous residence in the region since at least December 31, 1994 may participate in the vote for the independence of New Caledonia.
Located in the western Pacific, New Caledonia became a French colony in 1853. It has been an overseas territory of France since 1946, and since 1998 it is also a French “sui generis community” with wide autonomy.
The French government is responsible for foreign policy and defense. The government of France is represented by a high commissioner appointed by the president. The economy of New Caledonia is largely dependent on subsidies from Paris amounting to approximately EUR 1.3 billion per year. It is also based on the export of nickel (25% of the world’s exports of this raw material, used, among others, for the production of batteries) and tourism.
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