In brief

New Caledonia elects first pro-independence majority government in history

Samuel Hnepeune or Louis Mapou set to become first-ever Kanak president

The 11 members of the new government of New Caledonia.
The 11 members of the new government of New Caledonia. Author: Niko Vincent/Congrès de la Nouvelle-Calédonie
The New Caledonian government now has a pro-independence majority for the first time since its establishment in 1999, after the islands’ assembly, or Congress, elected a new cabinet on 17 February. In addition, either Samuel Hnepeune or Louis Mapou is set to become New Caledonia’s first Kanak president.

Of the 11 members of the new cabinet, 6 are pro-independence politicians. The previous 16 governments had always had a majority of members of parties supporting New Caledonia’s union with France.

All 8 New Caledonian presidents to date have been whites, whether born in New Caledonia, metropolitan France, Algeria, or Tahiti, as was the case with the latest, Thierry Santa.

New Caledonian governments are required by law to include members of both pro-independence and pro-union parties, although the share is not fixed.

The votes of Congress members of the L’Éveil Océanien party, which represents the interests of Wallis and Futuna islanders living in New Caledonia, have been key to the election for the first time of a pro-independence majority. The party itself does not support independence, but this time it has joined forces with main secessionist party Kanak and Socialist National Liberation Front (FLNKS).

It has yet to be decided who will chair the government. Samuel Hnepeune (FLNKS candidate) was apparently the man, but the other main pro-independence party, the UNI, is seeking to have elected its Congress faction president Louis Mapou.

Hnepeune has been president of Air Calédonie, the islands’ airline, and of employers’ federation Medef-NC —the first Kanak to hold the post.

The new cabinet’s lack of gender parity is striking: of 11 members, only one is a woman. Which is why, while the Congress was voting, several dozen people, convened by feminist organisations, were protesting against the marginalisation of women in island politics.

The change of government came after pro-independence forces overthrew Santa’s government on 2 February. Pro-independence parties were opposed to the sale of a major nickel factory to a consortium with foreign participation. Nickel is one of New Caledonia’s major wealths.