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New Caledonia will hold a third independence referendum

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New Caledonia will hold a third independence referendum

Theo Rouby/AFP

France’s Pacific territory of New Caledonia will hold its third independence referendum today under the terms of the 1998 Noumea Accord.

The first two referenda, held in 2018 and 2020, reaffirmed New Caledonia’s status as a French territory. Today’s referendum is being boycotted by the territory’s largest ethnic group, the indigenous Kanak, who are predominantly pro-independence. Kanak pro-independence leaders initiated the boycott after France refused their demands to postpone the vote. Kanak leaders argue that mourning periods for Kanaks who died in September’s COVID-19 outbreak hindered their inability to campaign.

French loyalists are almost certain to win the referendum by a wide margin. Anti-independence supporters campaigned hard in the lead-up to today’s vote. France’s economic heft—contributing $94.3 million in COVID-19 aid to New Caledonia—and Paris’ successful vaccine rollout across the territory has buoyed loyalist arguments regarding France’s indispensability to New Caledonia.

Expect increased tensions in the coming months, as pro-independence campaigners will likely seek UN intervention to pressure President Emmanuel Macron to re-run the vote next year. However, with the 2022 presidential election looming, President Macron seeks to strengthen French influence in the Pacific and will likely take a hard-line on the referendum to ward off a multitude of right-wing challengers.

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