Macron suspends electoral reform in New Caledonia after unrest

Screenshot, Many Kanaks, seen here demonstrating as Macron’s motorcade passed by, want independence from France.

  • Author, Thomas Spender
  • Role, bbc news

President Emmanuel Macron says he will not impose a controversial electoral reform in the French Pacific territory of New Caledonia following deadly unrest.

During a visit to the main island, Macron said local leaders should engage in dialogue to find an alternative arrangement for the archipelago’s future.

Six people, including two police officers, have been killed and hundreds more injured in riots, looting and arson.

Currently, voting in the territory is restricted to indigenous Kanaks and those who arrived from France before 1998.

The planned reform would allow more French residents to vote, including those who have been in New Caledonia for at least 10 years.

Many Kanaks, who make up around 40% of the population, fear this will dilute their political voice and make any future independence referendum more difficult to achieve.

“I have promised that this reform will not be approved today in the current context,” Macron said.

“We will allow a few weeks to calm tensions and resume dialogue to find a broad agreement” between all parties, he added, stating that he would review the situation in a month.

Screenshot, Macron met with pro-independence and anti-independence leaders during his visit

However, Macron insisted that the result of the last independence referendum, in which residents voted to remain part of France, could not be questioned.

New Caledonia has held four referendums on independence. The first two obtained slim majorities in favor of remaining part of France. The third was boycotted by pro-independence parties after the authorities refused to postpone the vote due to the Covid epidemic.

During his trip, Macron met with pro-independence and anti-independence leaders from New Caledonia.

If the two sides could reach a new agreement, the territory could vote to adopt it in a referendum, he said.

Under the 1998 Noumea Agreement, France agreed to give New Caledonia – a group of islands between Australia and Fiji that became French territory in the 19th century – more political autonomy and to limit voting in provincial and assembly elections to those who were residents at the time.

Since then, more than 40,000 French citizens have moved to New Caledonia.

Last week, the National Assembly in Paris proposed granting the right to vote to French residents who had lived in the territory for 10 years, sparking a backlash.

The riots have caused hundreds of millions of dollars in damage. None of the six people killed were shot by French security forces, French prosecutors say.

The state of emergency will be lifted when all protesters’ barricades have been dismantled, Macron added. He described the violence as an “unprecedented insurrection movement” that no one saw coming.

A 3,000-strong force deployed from France would remain in the territory even during the Paris Summer Olympics if necessary, he said.

The airport in Noumea, capital of New Caledonia, remains closed to commercial flights.

Military flights took about 300 Australian tourists and 50 New Zealanders out of the territory. They reported witnessing arson and looting and experiencing food shortages.

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