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  • New Caledonia
  • David Chappell (bio)

After three years of ad hoc, issue-by-issue cooperation in the Congress of New Caledonia between the loyalist but centrist Avenir Ensemble (ae, or “Future Together”) and various pro-independence parties in the Front de Libération Nationale Kanak et Socialiste (flnks), the formerly dominant Gaullist Rassemblement pour la Calédonie dans la République (rpcr) reconfirmed its control over New Caledonian representation in the French Parliament, thanks in part to the victory of Nicolas Sarkozy as successor to Gaullist Jacques Chirac in the presidential election. But the new regime in Paris confirmed France’s commitment to the Noumea Accord of 1998, which stipulates a gradual devolution of self-governing powers to the territory (since 2003 referred to officially as a semi-autonomous “overseas entity”) and working toward a “common destiny” for this multiethnic society. Progress continued in the development of new nickel mining projects despite ongoing concerns over environmental pollution; in economic growth, despite rising problems with a high cost of living and homelessness; in the recognition of Kanak cultural identity and the teaching of Kanak languages; and in the country’s role in the Pacific region. Militant labor unions remained as active as ever, even forming a new Labor Party.

The rpcr had dominated local politics for many years, building a reputation for not consulting much with other parties in making government decisions. But in the 2004 provincial elections, loyalist opponents and dissidents formed the ae coalition and won control of Congress and the Southern Province. Since then it has been the rpcr’s turn to complain about being marginalized in government decision-making. So, starting in 2006, rpcr leader Pierre Frogier began a strident campaign reminiscent of the fear tactics that had polarized the country in the 1980s. In a bid to appeal to French loyalists, especially recent immigrants, Frogier opposed the freezing of the electorate in congressional elections and referendums on independence, calling the concept (embedded in the Noumea Accord, which he signed in 1998) a violation of human rights. The flnks, on the other hand, has been struggling for twenty-five years against allowing new migrants from France and its other Pacific territories to vote on the country’s destiny, considering that in the 1970s France [End Page 460] orchestrated an immigration wave that brought in 25,000 people, during a nickel boom, to make a minority of parties wanting autonomy or independence. The flnks adheres strongly to the Noumea Accord, which stipulated that only those who had been residents for ten years in 1998, or their adult descendants, could vote in key congressional elections or referendums. But Frogier has complained that such a stipulation would exclude 11 percent of residents who could already vote in national, municipal, and even European Union elections; and in Noumea, the capital, perhaps 20 percent of voters would be excluded, including many rpcr supporters. Because French presidential and legislative elections were approaching in 2007, the rhetoric grew more shrill as 2006 came to a close, and some members of the Gaullist allies of the rpcr in France, Chirac’s ump (Union pour un Mouvement Populaire) joined the debate, while the Socialists (generally pro-flnks) and the centrist udf (Union pour la Démocratie Française, to which many ae members adhere) tended to side with the flnks viewpoint to uphold the consensual Noumea Accord and the organic laws that enacted it in 1999.

As the issue moved through metropolitan and European institutions, the flnks interpretation prevailed. As early as 2005, the European Court of Human Rights had approved the frozen electorate, and in March 2006 the French Council of Ministers did the same. But in December 2006 and early 2007, the rpcr nevertheless mobilized opponents of the concept in what was clearly an electoral gambit for the 2007 elections. Senator Simon Loueckhote even proposed that three rather than ten years of residence should suffice for all voters, and in January 2007 the rpcr coalition warned that the flnks and its allies wanted to “confiscate the right to vote” and ultimately impose an “ultra-communalist” notion of citizenship “based on blood, and not on soil,” thereby creating second class citizens (kol, 8 Jan 2007...