Wednesday 08 Apr 2020 | 23:18 | SYDNEY
Wednesday 08 Apr 2020 | 23:18 | SYDNEY

New Caledonia election: Reduced pro-France majority

15 May 2009 10:29

Elections on 10 May returned the New Caledonian Government, which will implement important transfers of powers and prepare the way for the future long-term status of New Caledonia. 

But the results showed some potentially worrying trends, and present risks to the peaceful path New Caledonia has so far adopted. As a near neighbour, Australia has an interest in the outcomes in New Caledonia, which has recently been the one stable entity within the Melanesian arc of instability to our northeast.

While the groups wanting New Caledonia to stay with France maintained their majority, they lost five seats compared to 2004, winning 31 of the 54 Congress seats. They are also now more divided, including four parties instead of the main party that has dominated their camp for decades.

On the pro-independence side, which won 23 seats (as opposed to 18 in the previous Congress), fragmentation has long been a feature of their politics, and the various elements have tended to work well within the loose overarching FLNKS (Front for National Kanak Socialist Liberation). The grouping was able to cooperate sufficiently to win back some representation in the wealthy, mainly European Southern Province, which they had lost in 2004. 

But this time, an extremist Labour Party (Parti Travailliste), which emerged only a year ago from a militant union known for violent strikes, has won three seats, and representation in all three provinces. 

The effect of the new party is potentially disruptive. The new Congress will have to make difficult decisions about transfers of sensitive responsibilities from France, such as secondary education. It will also prepare for the next step in defining New Caledonia’s future, that of holding referenda on transferring critical sovereign powers (including defence, foreign affairs, currency, law and order, and justice) from 2014 to 2019. 

Some believe that even holding these independence referenda, provided under the 1998 Noumea Accord, will be a mistake. Voting patterns consistently show the pro-France side would win, potentially igniting sensitivities amongst disappointed mainly Kanak independence supporters, with the risk of a return to 1980s violence. 

The largest pro-France party has already advocated holding referenda as soon as legally possible, as has the Labour Party. Other parties have either remained silent or advocated dialogue on alternatives. The stridency of the Labour Party could force a more hardline attitude from the FLNKS on these issues, and a hardening of views within the pro-France group, as it works out uneasy new coalitions.

France, a self-styled 'impartial player', will be looking for a workable, stable result and the isolation of the Labour Party.