Pro-independence parties progress, are left 2 seats short of majority in New Caledonia Congress

Loyalist voters throw support behind centralist parties · Second independence referendum in 2020 closer to being held

Kanak and French flags.
Kanak and French flags. Author: George Garrigues
Pro-independence parties obtained 26 out of 54 seats in the New Caledonia Congress at the election held 12 May in the French overseas territory. Despite having progressed by one seat (in 2014 they won 25), the secessionist parties remain 2 short of the absolute majority. The election was the first in New Caledonia after the 2018 self-determination referendum, in which 43% of voters —more than expected by opinion polls— supported secession from France.

Loyalist parties obtained 28 seats, now with greater preponderance of more centralist parties. In 2014, Calédonie Ensemble —a party that defined New Caledonia as “a small nation within France” and that was open to discuss further devolution— was the largest in the anti-independence bloc. The party, however, has now captured 7 seats (down from 15 in 2014), while L’Avenir en Confiance alliance —more right-wing than Calédonie Ensemble and opposed to further self-government for New Caledonia— has captured 18 seats.

Dins del bloc lleialista destaca, també, la irrupció per primer cop d’un nou partit, L’Eveil Océanien (3 escons), que representa els ciutadans de Nova Caledònia originaris d’unes altres illes franceses de l’oceà Pacífic: Wallis i Futuna. El partit, oficialment, diu que no pren partit en la qüestió de la independència, però el seu líder, Milakulo Tukumuli, admet que el 90% de la seva comunitat està en contra de la secessió i que per ell, la qüestió de la pertinença a França “no es planteja”.

A new party within the loyalist bloc —L’Eveil Océanien, 3 seats— made it into the Congress. The party draws its votes among New Caledonian citizens with origins in Wallis and Futuna, another French overseas territory. The party officially states that it does not take a position on the issue of independence. But its leader, Milakulo Tukumuli, admits that 90% of Wallisians and Futunans in New Caledonia are against independence and further says that, according to him, there is no need to raise the issue.

New referendum in 2020

The Congress is the deliberative assembly of New Caledonia, which passes the so-called “country laws”, or “lois de pays”, relating to powers exercised by the Pacific ocean territory. It also elect the New Caledonia government, which is formed in accordance with the consociational principle —it must bring together members of both pro-independence and loyalist parties, in a similar way that happens in Northern Ireland.

One of the most prominent aspects of the new term will be the very likely holding of a second independence referendum in 2020. The Noumea Agreement provides that, with a vote for by one third of the Congress members, the referendum must be held. Pro-independence FLNKS already said in 2018 that the party would seek to have the vote held again in 2020. Loyalist L’Avenir en Confiance says it also favours the holding of the vote.

Why? The reasons are, of course, different in each case. The FLNKS believes that it has enough time to close the 7-percentage point gap that denied the pro-independence camp victory in the 2018 referendum. L’Avenir in Confiance, conversely, says it wants to “reduce the uncertainty period” created, in its opinion, by the successive referendums, and also to achieve, this time, a much clearer “no” victory.