Pacific News Minute: Date and Question Agreed for New Caledonia’s Independence Referendum

Mar 29, 2018

The flags of France and New Caledonia
Credit Wikimedia Commons

A late night meeting in Paris has settled the most critical remaining issue ahead of New Caledonia’s independence referendum. The exact wording of the question to be put before voters. We have details from Neal Conan in today’s Pacific News Minute.

French Prime Minister Edouard Philippe emerged from extended discussions with the question: “Do you want New Caledonia to accede to full sovereignty and become independent?”

RNZ Pacific reported that negotiations on the wording extended deep into the night as independence advocates insisted on inclusion of the word “sovereignty.” Loyalists would have preferred to ask voters if they wished to remain French.

Earlier, negotiators had settled the thorny question of who’s eligible to vote, and on the date – November 4th.

Thirty years ago, negotiations among pro and anti-independence groups agreed on a process to resolve what might otherwise have been irreconcilable differences. Indigenous Kanaks demanded independence and an end to French colonialism.

French Prime Minister Edouard Philippe
Credit RaphaelQS / Wikimedia Commons

Settlers from France and other Pacific Islands agreed on autonomy, but under the French umbrella. Over the decades, local authority has transferred gradually from Paris to Noumea, but the once distant referendum at the end of the process now looms. 

French officials have expressed concern about what happens November 5th.

Prime Minister Philippe said the referendum will be a challenge, not without risk, as he put it, and worried that the campaign and the vote could re-open old divisions. The Prime Minister set up a group called the G10, where representatives of all parties can hold confidential talks on ‘the day after’; much will depend on whether that group can stick together, and whether all parties agree to abide by the results.