New Caledonia: the independence vote looms

One month out from New Caledonia’s Nov. 4 independence referendum, the French State has announced a number of steps it has taken to ensure a credible and peaceful process. The campaign is generally proceeding smoothly, although tensions around a boycott call and an ongoing mining blockade by young Kanaks have been compounded by a shooting incident on 2 October in the troubled St Louis area near Noumea.

On Oct. 4, France’s High Commissioner publicly reviewed its provision of increased security personnel for the referendum period, and announced a ban – for the weekend of the vote – on the sale of alcohol and carrying weapons, including those used for hunting.

French Prime Minister Edouard Philippe also issued a communique on the implications of the vote, clearly aiming at impartiality, predictability and credibility, and emphasizing dialogue.

There is an inherent tension between France’s role as organizer and interested sovereign power.

The legal procedures for preparing for the vote require the French State to provide information on both the pro-independence and pro-France positions. The task was a delicate one, given the sensitivity of the voting process ending compromises that have ensured 30 years of peace and stability. There is also an inherent tension between France’s role as organizer and interested sovereign power, and wide differences between certain parties. Yet France’s stated desire is to ensure the vote will be accepted as legitimate, in New Caledonia, in the region, and beyond.

The document is as neutral as such a document can be, confining itself to the practical role of the French State in the event of either a “yes” or “no” outcome on 4 November on the question: “Do you want New Caledonia to accede to full sovereignty and become independent?”

The communiqué indicates early that France is organizing the vote “in the strictest neutrality” and that it “will not campaign”. It underlines the role of dialogue and negotiation after the vote, and refers to recent consultative documents, notably the 2014 canvassing of four optionsfor the future, and the 2016 Christnacht mission report on the institutional future.

It then sets out the practical consequences for the French State of a “yes” answer to independence. In this case, it notes that New Caledonia would acquire all sovereign responsibilities, an international status of full responsibility, and the organisation of i