By Pacific Island Times News Staff
New Caledonia voters chose to remain a French territory during the third and final referendum held Sunday amid the pro-independence camp's call for a boycott of the ballot.
The overall turnout was just 41 percent — less than half the numbers who showed up in a previous independence referendum last year, where support for breaking away was 46.7 percent.
"A period of transition is beginning. Free from the binary choice of 'Yes' or 'No', we must now build a common project while recognizing and respecting the dignity of everyone," French President Emmanuel Macros said in a recorded message.
Voters were asked to mark "yes" or "no" on the question: “Do you want New Caledonia to achieve full sovereignty and become independent?”
With three-quarters of the vote counted, 91 percent of those who took part chose to stay in France, according to regional officials, according to Euro News.
"The Caledonians have made the choice of France, that of unity, that of confidence. I am very proud of it. It is now up to us to continue to build this common destiny that our elders dreamed of and initiated," Macron tweeted.
The referendum went ahead despite calls by the indigenous Kanaks to postpone the vote till next year, saying the territory is still grappling with the Covid pandemic. The pro-independence groups said it was difficult to mobilize a campaign during a public health crisis.
The vote is part of a decades-long process of decolonization under the Noumea Agreement.
In the first such referendum in 2018, 43.6 percent of voters supported independence, and 46.7 percent supported it in the second vote in 2020.