New Caledonia’s independence referendum: A reminder of local realities

Noumea — Against New Caledonia’s troubled history, Foreign Minister Marise Payne’s statement was highly appropriate, expressing Australia’s acknowledgement of the achievement by the French government and local parties in a momentous vote on Nov. 4. The vote is the first step of the final phase of a genuine, agreed self-determination process.

The fact of the independence vote taking place at all, the unprecedented turnout of over 80 percent of eligible voters, the strong participation of the young, especially young Kanaks, and the peaceful relaxed atmosphere (at least during polling hours) are remarkable enough.

But the result, 56.4 percent against and 43.6 percent in favor of independence, is a timely reminder to the three principal players ­– France, the independence, and loyalist groups – of local realities and the seriousness of the task ahead.

The narrow result, because it differed radically from limited opinion polling, and statements by loyalists suggesting a 65–70 percent win for staying with France, was reported by many as surprising. In fact, it reflects the current disposition of