Asia-Pacific

New Caledonia's independence referendum

The Pacific islands of New Caledonia are voting on independence after 165 years as a French territory.

About 174,000 people on the Pacific islands of New Caledonia are voting on independence after 165 years as a French territory.

Here's a quick checklist on the historic referendum.

WHY A VOTE ON INDEPENDENCE?

Rival pro-independence and pro-French forces in New Caledonia agreed in a 1988 peace deal that an independence vote would be held within 10 years.

In 1998, the rival forces and the French government agreed to beef up local autonomy and put the vote on full independence off for up to 20 years. That means it must take place this year.

WHO GETS TO VOTE?

The total population of New Caledonia, including children, was 269,000 in France's 2014 census. But only just over 174,000 people - those with longstanding links to the territory - are entitled to vote in the referendum.

IS THERE AN ETHNIC DIVIDE?

The territory's native Kanak community, who made up 39 per cent of the population in 2014, were long discriminated against under French colonial rule prior to 1946. The radical independence movement of the 1980s was based among the Kanaks and they are still the most inclined to support independence now.

Another 27 per cent of the population declared themselves "Europeans" in the 2014 census. Mostly descended from French settlers and convicts deported to the New Caledonian penal colony, they have been the bedrock of opposition to independence.

Other major ethnic groups are those with origins in multiple communities, at 8.6 per cent; Wallisians and Futunans, at 8.2 per cent; and those simply calling themselves "Caledonians," at 7.4 per cent.

WHAT HAPPENS AFTER THE VOTE?

Results are expected in the hours after polls close at 6pm local time on Sunday. French Prime Minister Edouard Philippe says he will arrive in the capital Noumea on Monday to discuss the next steps with local political forces, whatever the result.

If there is a yes vote, then France will arrange to hand over its remaining powers - on security, defence, foreign affairs, and currency - and New Caledonia will become an independent state.

Polls suggest a "no" vote is far more likely. In that case, the territory will retain its wide-ranging autonomy, which is guaranteed to be "irreversible" under the 1998 Noumea Agreement.

The Noumea Agreement also states that one-third of the members of the local parliament can trigger up to two more independence votes within the next four years.

If they in turn both fail, then, under the agreement, "the political partners will meet to examine the situation thus caused".

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