By Mar-Vic Cagurangan
Pacific Elders back New Caledonia’s call to defer independence referendum
Citing a spike in coronavirus-related deaths, the Pacific Elders’ Voice urged French President Emmanuel Macron to defer New Caledonia’s third independence referendum currently scheduled for Dec. 12.
“We understand that the proposed third referendum under the Noumea Accord scheduled for the 12th of December is not supported by the indigenous peoples of New Caledonia,” the Pacific Elders stated in a letter sent to Macron on Nov. 22.
The Pacific Elders Voice, which comprises former leaders of the island states and territories, urged Macron “to be open to the voice of the leaders of the Kanak peoples and show consideration and respect for their wishes” to avert any potential violence and keep the dialogue open.
The referendum, which is mandated under the 1998 Noumea Accord, will decide New Caledonia's political status. Whether it should remain a French territory or become a sovereign independent nation is a question that polarizes New Calendonians.
The French loyalists won the first two referendums, held in 2018 and 2020, respectively with 56.7% then 53.3% of the vote.
In October this year the pro-independence, Kanak and Socialist National Liberation Front called on the French government to defer the third and final ballot until the coronavirus pandemic subsides. France, however, rejected the Kanak’s repeated request to reset the polls for next year, claiming the virus transmission is under control.
“We are aware of their concerns, as we across the Pacific in Micronesia Polynesia and Melanesia have faced tragedy with the deaths of our peoples, greater isolation as well as the economic downturn of our economies,” the Pacific Elders said.
With a population of 289,306, New Caledonia has recorded 11,909 Covid cases with 276 deaths.
“We acknowledge and understand the concerns of our brothers and sisters in New Caledonia and their wishes to defer the third referendum until all mourning protocols have been adheredto at time of death burial and throughout our traditional mourningperiods time,” the Pacific Elders said.
The Pacific Elders’ Voice comprises former presidents Hilda Heine of Marshall Islands, Tommy Remengesau Jr. of Palau, Anote Tong of Kiribati; Tuvalu’s former prime minister Enele Sopoaga; former secretary-general of the Pacific Islands Forum Secretariat, Dame Meg Taylor, and Dr. Robert Underwood, former congressman and retired president of the University of Guam.
They provide guidance, advice and constructive policy inputs for current and future challenges and opportunities facing the Pacific.