In brief

Discussion starts over date of New Caledonia’s third independence referendum

Pro-sovereignty bloc proposes September 2022 vote as unionists urge ballots as soon as possible

Citizens' line waiting to vote in referendum.
Citizens' line waiting to vote in referendum. Author: FLNKS
New Caledonia will vote for the third time on independence from France in October 2022 at the latest after the pro-independence bloc announced it will demand a new referendum be held. The announcement has sparked debate over when the vote should be held.

Pro-independence supporters prefer to postpone the date as long as possible. According to their calculations, the more time goes on, the more people will vote “yes”. Difference in votes between the two referendums held to date seems to prove them right: in 2018, 43.3% of voters supported secession from France, while in 2020, the figure rose to 46.7%.

The unionist bloc would prefer the referendum not to take place. As they cannot legally prevent that — the holding of the three referendums is signed into the 1998 Nouméa Accords —, the Unionists are calling for the vote to be held “as quickly as possible,” in the words of Virginie Ruffenach, leader of the main unionist group in the New Caledonian Congress.

French Prime Minister Jean Castex has invited unionist and pro-independence leaders to a Paris summit from 25 May to 3 June. “All” aspects related to the vote will be discussed, according to the French government. Unionists hope to set the ground for talks on a third way to prevent New Caledonia from becoming independent. The pro-independence side does not want to hear about that, and insists that the vote must be binary: “yes” or “no”.

New Caledonia has been semi-autonomous since 1998, with its own government and assembly. France retains powers over defence, police, justice, currency, and borders, among other areas.