New Caledonia is one of the territories of the Pacific that is part of the French Republic, after having been colonized in the 19th century. It is made up of one main island (Grande-Terre, where most of the population lives), an archipelago (the Loyalty Islands) and other, smaller islands. New Caledonia has a diverse population, with two main groups: the Melanesian Kanaks and the Whites, a division around which revolve much of the islands' politics. The country has its own self-governing institutions, some of which are Kanak-only.
New Caledonia was inhabited for millennia by Oceanic populations that ended up forming the present-day, Melanesian-speaking Kanak people. On September 24, 1853 France took possession of the territory, exploited it economically, and imposed a regime of legal discrimination and oppression against the Kanaks, who revolted against it several times throughout the 19th and 20th centuries. The regime was steadily dismantled between the 1940-1960 decades. In 1957 France established a non-autonomous New Caledonian assembly, elected by universal suffrage. In the 1970s and 1980s, the Kanaks established pro-independence parties and trade unions, the most important of which was —and continues to be— the Kanak and Socialist National Liberation Front (FLNKS). Tensions between the Kanaks and the French state flared up into violence in the 1980s. The conflict ended with the Matignon Agreements (1988) and the Nouméa Agreement (1998), which established a system of autonomy and the holding of self-determination referendums.
According to the 2014 INSEE census, Kanaks are the largest group, with 39% of the total population. European Whites (including both the Caldoches, or descendants of Europeans arriving in New Caledonia throughout the 19th and 20th centuries, and the Métros, or French citizens established there at recent times) come second, standing at 27% of the population. The percentage of Polynesians originating from Wallis and Futuna (another French territory) is 8%. A further 7% of the population define themselves as “Caledonians”.
New Caledonia has its own government and assembly (the Congress), which have executive and legislative powers in a wide range of internal affairs (education, labour, administration and taxation, among others).
The New Caledonian political spectrum is quite polarized between mostly left-wing pro-independence parties —who receive support from the Kanaks and, to a lesser extent, from Polynesians— and mostly conservative unionist or loyalist parties, who receive the votes of Whites and other smaller communities.
The pro-independence vote usually stands at 30% to 40%, while the loyalist parties dominate with 60% to 70% of the votes. The government is elected by the New Caledonia Congress. As established in the law of autonomy of New Caledonia (1999), that election system favours the establishment of coalitions that include both loyalist and pro-independence ministers.
Referendum on self-determination
The Nouméa Agreement (1998), signed by French government and the main pro-independence and loyalist parties, established the holding of referendums on self-determination. The first one was held 4 November 2018, with a “no” win with 56.4% of the votes.
The Agreement foresaw that two more referendums could be organized in 2020 and 2022 if one third of the New Caledonia Congress members asked for it.
The 2020 referendum was held on 4th October. 53.3% of the voters again rejected independence, which this time received the support from 46.7%.
Government and Parliament
Government: L'Avenir en confiance, L'Éveil océanien, Calédonie Ensemble, UC-FLNKS and UNI coalition, under a consociational system
Parliament (2019 election). 54 members:
L'avenir en confiance (pro-autonomy unionists, right) - 18
Calédonie Ensemble (pro-autonomy, centre-right) - 7
UC-FLNKS (pro-independence, left) - 15
UNI (pro-independence, left) - 9
L'éveil océanien (centre, interests of the community from Wallis and Futuna) - 3
PT (pro-independence, left) - 1
LKS (pro-independence, left) - 1
(Last updated October 2020.)