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  • New Caledonia
  • David Chappell (bio)

This year was a potential turning point in the decolonization of New Caledonia. The Noumea Accord of 1998 said that the country could hold a referendum on independence in 2014, and the provincial elections of May 2009 produced a Congress empowered to call for that referendum. The country already has a “double” federal relationship with France, as its three provinces have some autonomy from the territory, which in turn continues to receive more self-governing powers from Paris. France itself is integrated into the European Union, so the status of New Caledonia in some ways resembles that of a chartered town in the old medieval European hierarchy. Since 1986, the United Nations Decolonization Committee has regarded New Caledonia as a non-self-governing territory, yet it looks a bit odd on a list with much smaller, resource-poor entities such as Pitcairn Island, the Caribbean islands, Gibraltar, and the Falklands. New Caledonia has one-fourth of the world supply of nickel, and though the price per ton suffered almost a 50 percent drop over the past year because of the global economic crisis, the mining-based economy remains capable of sustainable development if the income distribution is better managed.

In this “postcolonial” phase of the country’s history, when the Noumea Accord serves as a kind of interim constitution, the political landscape is divided mainly between those who support full independence and those who want enlarged autonomy (the status quo at this point), much like the situation in French Polynesia. Unfortunately for the latter, the nearparity of independence and autonomy supporters has caused nine changes in the top leadership in Papeete since 2004, because a few politicians can switch sides and generate motions of no confidence to receive better posts in a new regime. In New Caledonia, Harold Martin of the centrist Avenir Ensemble (ae, Future Together) party, which caused a mini-revolution in local politics in 2004, explicitly urged his fellow French loyalists to unite and create a “pact of stability” to avoid a “Tahitian” situation (nc, 7 May 2009). But New Caledonia too has experienced fluctuating divisions on both sides of the political spectrum. Since the Noumea Accord brought increasing self-government, independence and autonomy are separated by concerns among the immigrant majority over economic dependency and security. For most Europeans, Asians, Polynesians, mixed-race people (métis), and some Kanak, French citizenship gives them legitimacy and safety, so they often point to signs of instability in neighboring [End Page 433] Melanesian countries as object lessons to avoid.

The Front de Libération Nationale Kanak et Socialiste (flnks) has been the primary pro-independence force since 1984, when its boycott of provincial elections caused a near civil war. But its two leading coalition members, the older Union Calédonienne (uc) and the Parti de Libération Kanak (Palika), have long been rivals, and only rarely and recently (as in the French legislative elections of 2007) have they campaigned on the same list. Each has tried to claim the flnks label, but forming separate electoral lists weakened the Kanak vote so much in the 2004 provincial polls that no flnks candidate was elected in the populous, multiethnic Southern Province, despite the presence there of a large Kanak workforce, sometimes called the largest “tribe.” In 2009, the flnks list in the South managed to unify under Rock Wamytan, who formerly headed the flnks, the uc, and the subregional Melanesian Spearhead Group. Two smaller members of the flnks are the Rassemblement Démocratique Océanien (rdo), which is composed of Polynesian migrants from Wallis and Futuna, and the Union Progressiste Mélanésienne (upm). The small Libération Kanak Socialiste (lks), led by former radical Nidoish Naisseline, and the new Parti Travailliste (pt, or Labor Party), an offshoot of a radical labor federation, the Union Syndicaliste des Travailleurs Kanak et Exploités (ustke), round out the main actors who at least nominally support full independence.

The uc-Palika rivalry has prevented the flnks from having a president since 2001, when Wamytan last held the position. In 2009, after much failed negotiation over unity, the two parties again ran on separate lists in the Kanak-ruled North...


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