New Caledonia holds tense final vote on independence from France | Independence News

The French Pacific territory of New Caledonia votes in a third and final referendum on independence from France.

But Sunday’s poll is marred by a boycott of the main pro-independence parties who say the coronavirus pandemic is preventing a fair poll.

The turnout was down sharply from the two previous polls, with just 27.8% of the vote at noon (01:00 GMT), down from 49.4% at this point in the 2020 vote, according to the High Commission for he is.

At the Candide-Koch polling station in the capital Noumea, a voter told AFP news agency that “this referendum does not make much sense because half of the population has decided not to vote”.

Cathy, who only gave her first name, told AFP that she was “out of good citizenship”.

“What interests me is the society that we are going to build afterwards,” she added.

The territory of about 185,000 voters, 2,000 kilometers (1,250 miles) east of Australia, won three independence referendums as part of a 1988 agreement to ease tensions over the islands.

After rejecting a break with France in 2018 and again last year, the inhabitants are questioned one last time: “Do you want New Caledonia to achieve full sovereignty and become independent?”

This photograph, taken on December 12, 2021, shows ballots indicating “yes” and “no” for the independence referendum at a polling station in Nouméa town hall, in the French South Pacific territory of New Caledonia [Theo Rouby / AFP]

At stake is one of the largest French overseas territories, with around 10 percent of the world’s nickel – used to make stainless steel, batteries and cellphones – and a key strategic asset in the competition between the West and China for electricity in the Indo-Pacific. .

“If the French safeguard were to disappear, all the elements would be in place for China to settle permanently in New Caledonia,” said international relations analyst Bastien Vandendyck.

Other nations in the region, including Fiji, Vanuatu, the Solomon Islands and Papua New Guinea, had already become “Chinese satellites,” Vandendyck told AFP.

“All China needs now to complete its pearl necklace on Australia’s doorstep is New Caledonia,” he said.

‘A mess’

Independence activists boycott the vote, saying they want it postponed to September because “a fair campaign” is not possible with a high number of coronavirus infections.

“I do not want to go and vote because I do not agree with this final ballot,” said Jean-Pierre Wadra, resident of Noumea.

The 270,000 inhabitants of New Caledonia were largely spared during the first phase of the pandemic, but have suffered nearly 300 deaths from COVID-19 since the appearance of the Delta variant.

The independence movement has always threatened with non-recognition of the referendum result and promised to appeal to the United Nations to have it annulled.

Map of New Caledonia

Authorities deployed 2,000 police and soldiers for the vote, which has so far gone without incident, according to the high commission, although police intervened in an attempted roadblock on a peripheral island.

Whatever the direction of the poll, the controversy is likely to rumble: “It’s going to be a mess in New Caledonia,” said Wadra.

French Minister for Overseas Territories Sébastien Lecornu said the boycott would not change the “legal validity” of the referendum.

The vote comes against a backdrop of increasingly strained relations between Paris and its regional allies. France considers itself a major Indo-Pacific player thanks to overseas territories such as New Caledonia.

President Emmanuel Macron insisted that the French state does not take sides in the referendum, except to ensure a fair and smooth process.

Behind a recent Franco-Australian quarrel – over submarine contracts – looms China’s growing role in the region, with experts suspecting that an independent New Caledonia might be more favorable to Beijing’s advances.

China is already the number one customer for metals exports from New Caledonia.

Polling stations close at 6:00 p.m. (05:00 GMT) and the results are expected a few hours later.

Comments are closed.