New Caledonia elects pro-independence candidate to French national assembly

Election results are another setback for loyalists as unrest continues to simmer in Pacific island territory.
By BenarNews staff
New Caledonia elects pro-independence candidate to French national assembly Emmanuel Tjibaou, a winning pro-independence candidate in the second of New Caledonia’s two constituencies in the French national assembly, reacts following a press conference in Dumbea, New Caledonia on July 3, 2024.
Delphine Mayeur/AFP

New Caledonia elected a pro-independence candidate to France’s national assembly for the first time in nearly four decades, another setback for French loyalists as unrest continues in the Pacific island territory despite substantial security reinforcements.

Official results released on Monday for New Caledonia’s two constituencies in the national assembly showed the island also elected a loyalist candidate, even as the pro-independence bloc got more votes overall.

The results highlight the divisions in New Caledonia which has been rocked by unrest since May when pro-independence activists rioted in response to a proposed constitutional change that would dilute the voting power of indigenous Kanaks. The arrest of pro-independence activists and their removal to France for trial has also fueled protests. 

France’s High Commission, in a regular security update on Monday, said “the public order situation has improved” in recent days, helped by the presence of 3,500 regular and paramilitary police. However it also mentioned that schools had been set on fire. 

An update last week said police were still clearing roadblocks in the capital Noumea, nearly two months after the unrest first erupted, and that operations to regain control of the Noumea neighborhood of Mont-Dore were continuing. 

The election results, part of France’s snap national election on the weekend, showed indigenous Kanak Emmanuel Tjibaou won 57.4% of votes in New Caledonia’s 2nd constituency to defeat his loyalist opponent in a second-round contest.

Loyalist Nicolas Metzdorf triumphed in the 1st constituency with 52.4% of votes. Overall, about 158,000 New Caledonians voted and the pro-independence bloc outpolled loyalists by some 10,000 votes. 

However, loyalist leader Sonia Backès said the election was undermined by insecure conditions in New Caledonia and a lack of oversight at some polling locations. 

Last year, New Caledonia elected a pro-independence candidate, Robert Xowie, to France’s Senate for the first time.

Tjibaou is the son of a Kanak independence leader Jean-Marie Tjibaou who was assassinated in 1989. A newcomer to politics, Emmanuel Tjibaoul’s campaign emphasized a return to dialogue with France and loyalists to achieve the independence movement’s goals. 

“We must recreate the conditions for dialogue,” Tjibaou said in an interview Sunday with New Caledonia’s public broadcaster. “It’s a cry for help, it’s a cry for hope,” he said of the election results. 

Kanaks are about 40% of New Caledonia’s 270,000 people but are marginalized in their own land – they have lower incomes and poorer health than Europeans who make up a third of the population and occupy most positions of power in the territory.

The weeks of unrest, in which at least nine people have died, is the worst political violence in the Pacific territory located between Australia and Fiji since the 1980s. 

The riots erupted May 12 as the lower house of France’s parliament debated and subsequently approved a constitutional amendment to unfreeze New Caledonia’s electoral roll, which would give the vote to thousands of French immigrants.

Final approval of the amendment requires a joint sitting of France’s lower house. Such a vote now appears unlikely following the snap general election in France called by President Emmanuel Macron, which produced a plurality for centrist and left-wing parties but no outright majority.

France’s control of New Caledonia gives the European nation a significant security and diplomatic role in the Pacific at a time when the United States, Australia and other Western countries are pushing back against China’s inroads in the region. New Caledonia also has valuable nickel deposits that are among the world’s largest.

Backès, the leader of New Caledonia’s loyalists, said the French state failed to ensure the election was “democratic and transparent.”

“In the vast majority of polling stations on the East Coast, no assessor could attend due to lack of ability to get there, let alone safety,” she said in a Facebook post. 

“On Mont-Dore, the road blockage and violence against people trying to cross weakened the outcome of this election,” she said. 

BenarNews is an RFA-affiliated online news organization.


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