A majority of voters in New Caledonia chose to remain part of France instead of backing independence, election officials announced as French President Emmanuel Macron promised a full dialogue on the region’s future. The decision to keep ties with France was a watershed moment for the archipelago. The independence referendum itself was a milestone in New Caledonia’s three-decades-long decolonisation process, which was borne out of deep resentment by the region’s native Kanaks of decades of ill treatment by their European coloniser. Final results saw 56.4 per cent of voters choosing to remain part of France compared to 43.6 per cent support for independence, the high commissioner’s office said. The poll had a record-high participation rate of 80.6 per cent of registered voters — so many that some polling stations in the capital, Noumea, had to stay open about an hour longer than planned yesterday to handle the crush.
More than 174,000 registered voters were invited to answer the question: “Do you want New Caledonia to gain full sovereignty and become independent?” France has ruled New Caledonia since the mid-19th century.
“I’m asking everyone to turn towards the future to build tomorrow’s New Caledonia,” Macron said, speaking from the presidential Elysee Palace in Paris. “The spirit of dialogue is the sole winner.”
Praising both sides for their “responsible” campaigns, Macron added that “contempt and violence” were the only losers in the historic poll.
The high commissioner’s office reported limited outbreaks of unrest in Noumea as votes were counted, with seven cars set ablaze, some roads closed and two instances of stone-throwing. But otherwise the vote was overwhelmingly peaceful.
Prime Minister Edouard Philippe is set to meet New Caledonian officials today for talks about the political future of the territory of 270,000 people. New Caledonia receives about 1.3 billion euros in French state subsidies every year, and many had feared the economy would suffer if ties were severed.