The Contemporary Pacific 12.2 (2000) 515-520
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David A Chappell
Melanesia in Review: Issues and Events, 1999 *
The year 1999 saw the first real test of New Caledonia's new governing statutes, based on the Noumea Accord of May 1998. Just before Christmas 1998, the French Parliament in Paris passed into law provisions that would irreversibly transfer powers to New Caledonia over the next fifteen to twenty years, allow for a local president to be elected by Congress, and also permit that legislative body to enact "laws of the country" (PIR, 23 Dec 1998), thus granting significantly more self-government in a transitional period of shared sovereignty. Highlights of 1999 would be the May elections and their impact, quasi-political labor union unrest, and debates about the future.
Some critics of the Noumea Accord had warned that it would empower anti-independence politicians from the multiethnic, industrial Southern Province (where the capital, Noumea, is located and 70 percent of the population lives) to make the new "laws of the country" and thus would relegate the nationalist parties to a minority, opposition role in Congress (Maclellan 1999). Rock Wamytan of the Front de Libération Nationale Kanak et Socialiste (FLNKS) and Jacques Lafleur of the loyalist Rassemblement pour la Calédonie dans la République (RPCR) had both heralded the accord, but for different reasons. Lafleur was pleased at assuredly forestalling independence during his career, while Wamytan was content with the concessions made short of independence, that is, increasing autonomy as a step toward decolonization. As the May provincial elections neared, gamblers lined up behind two emerging patronage systems, that of the FLNKS and the RPCR, while splinter groups took their own stands or crossed over the political divide.
The election results were more encouraging for the RPCR than for the FLNKS, but neither could claim a clear majority in the Congress. The RPCR won 24 of 54 seats, but Lafleur voiced disappointment that the right-wing Front National, which doubled its seats to 4, had kept his party from clear control by scaring people about the future. In addition, dissident loyalist Didier Leroux' Alliance pour la Calédonie won 3 seats (an increase of one) by campaigning against Lafleur's monopolism. On the nationalist side, the FLNKS won 12 seats, the Parti de Libération Kanak (Palika) 6, and Nidoish Naisseline's Libération Kanak Socialiste 1, for a total of 19 pro-independence seats. Dissident moderates from the nationalist camp had formed the gradualist Fédération des Comités de Coordination Indépendantistes (FCCI) and won four seats, which provided Lafleur with the ally he needed to form the requisite [End Page 515] majority of 28 in Congress. He called the FCCI "a party of peace" (PIR, 11 May 1999).
In the provincial assemblies, the RPCR dominated the South, holding 25 of 40 seats, but the FLNKS and other nationalist parties kept control of the North (14 of 22 seats) and Islands (10 of 14 seats), perpetuating the quasi-partition of the country into two political camps that has tended to prevail for a decade and a half. Former Northern Province President Leopold Joredié found himself in the opposition, as a representative of the FCCI, while Paul Neaoutyine, mayor of Poindimié, led the largest bloc in the North, that of Palika, which outpolled the FLNKS 8-6. In the Islands, the nationalists made enough gains to avoid power-sharing, as Naisseline had done with the RPCR after 1995, but in the South loyalist parties controlled all but 6 seats out of 40. French High Commissioner Dominique Bur assured people that his office would continue to "be the guarantor of public liberty, also of legalities" (PIR, 12 May 1999), despite a rather biased record of Parisian support for loyalists in the courts. Les Nouvelles-Calédoniennes, the local daily paper, called the elections a victory for both the RPCR and the FLNKS but also noted that the Front National had established itself in New Caledonia, having drawn votes away from other loyalists (NC, 10 May 1999).
Tensions emerged as the...