New Caledonia
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The Contemporary Pacific 17.2 (2005) 435-448



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New Caledonia

The provincial elections in New Caledonia in May 2004 upset the political status quo in this French overseas territory, much as did the defeat of Gaston Flosse, another ally of French President Jacques Chirac, in French Polynesia that same month. In New Caledonia, Jacques Lafleur, whose loyalist Rassemblement pour la Calédonie dans la République ( RPCR ) had dominated the Congress (or Territorial Assembly) for a quarter century, suddenly found himself a minority leader and resigned from his seat. The new government, a coalition of former opposition parties and dissidents, continued to pass "laws of the country" and to develop its economy as the 1998 Noumea Accord empowered it to do, but labor strikes, resistance to a census that ignored ethnicity, and debates over local citizenship and identity symbols kept the"postcolonial" era lively.

In April, the then-ruling RPCR celebrated its twenty-seventh anniversary in the small settler town of La Foa and launched its electoral campaign with pleas for Lafleur not to resign yet from political life, as he had repeatedly vowed to do. Kanak President of the Congress and Senator to Paris Simon Loueckhote begged, "Jacques, please don't leave the RPCR, because there are women and men here who trust you," while Territorial Government President Pierre Frogier attacked RPCR dissidents who had organized a rival movement called Avenir Ensemble ( AE, or "Future Together"). The seventy-one-year-old Lafleur, a wealthy businessman, agreed to lead the party one more time in the upcoming elections because local supporters and President Chirac had asked him to. "Independence has now become just aword, a dream," he observed, adding that when the time came between 2014 and 2019 for a possible vote on independence, as provided for in the Noumea Accord, "No one will want to go to the referendum" ( PIR, 21 April 2004).

According to the consensual agreement reached in May 1998 by Paris, the RPCR and the pro-independence Front de Libération Nationale Kanak et Socialiste ( FLNKS ), France would continue to delegate self-governing powers to the territory over the second five-year mandate of the Noumea Accord, such as control over the police, internal air and maritime security, secondary education, civil and commercial law, land policy, and budgetary and financial responsibility. As a concession to the concept of establishing a local citizenship for deciding the future of the country, rather than just allowing any French citizen who arrives to cast a vote, only those born in New Caledonia or resident for at least ten years would be able to vote in the provincial elections. [End Page 436] This rule, which was still being examined by the European Court of Justice, would eliminate about 10 percent of the 130:000 potential voters. A recent French law on gender parity required that half the candidates on each party list, in alternating order, had to be women, and a party list needed the support of at least 5 percent of the registered voters in one of the three provinces (North, South, Islands) to obtain a seat in its assembly. Then, by a complex proportional method, 54 of the 76 total members of the three provincial assemblies could obtain a seat in the territorial Congress, which in turn would elect its own executive government ( NC, 31 March 2004).

In the 1999 provincial elections, twenty-three party lists had competed, and the RPCR had emerged with 24 seats in the Congress. In coalition with a dissident Kanak party, the Fédération des Comités de Coordination Indépendantistes ( FCCI ), it had acquired a 28 -seat voting majority and 7 of the 11 seats in the government executive, leading to complaints about a lack of collegiality (consultation) in decision making despite the proposal in the Noumea Accord to work toward a "common destiny." Pro-independence parties won 19 congressional seats in 1999 and only four ministries, while two smaller loyalist parties won 7 congressional seats and no ministries. Loyalists dominated the populous, wealthy Southern Province, while Kanak nationalists controlled the Northern and Islands Provinces, perpetuating...