On Sunday, voters in New Caledonia rejected independence and the territory will remain part of France. At least for now. French Prime Minister Edouard Phillipe has asked leaders from the South Pacific territory to gather in Paris next month to chart the way ahead.
The margin of Sunday’s vote is crucial. The final tally showed that 56.4 percent voted no.
Decisive, but hardly overwhelming, and well below the expectations of loyalist leaders. They hoped for a truly lopsided result to convince pro-independence Kanaks that their cause was lost, and to convince the French government to change the terms of the Noumea Accord.
Under that agreement, there can be another referendum in two years time and, if that also fails, a third vote in 2022. That process now seems all but certain to proceed.
Prime Minister Phillipe arrived in Noumea an hour after the results were announced and held talks with the leaders of all parties represented in New Caledonia’s congress.
Economics was a major issue; France provides substantial subsidies – about a billion and a half dollars per year. Australia’s ABC spoke to a no voter it called Fred, who said, “We can’t afford to be independent” and to a yes voter it called Kevin, who said, “I have confidence in my people. I think that we are ready.”
In a televised speech, French President Emmanuel Macron described the result as a vote of confidence in the French Republic, its future and its values.
The no vote means, no change. The local government is largely autonomous, but France retains control of defense, police, the judiciary, monetary policy and foreign affairs.