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  • New Caledonia
  • David Chappell (bio)

Political tensions in early 2011 came close to unraveling the "collegial" institutions put in place by the Noumea Accord of 1998, as the governing cabinet fell four times, until a new alliance emerged between leading loyalist and pro-independence parties. When local governance had seemed to stabilize, tragic intercommunal [End Page 389] violence erupted on the island of Maré just before the Pacific Games began in Noumea. The year finished with heated controversy over a cinematic representation of the dramatic battle on Ouvea in 1988, which had resulted in the negotiated Matignon peace accord that same year. 2011 was a year of testing and reflection, but at the territorial level, centrist loyalists and leftist independence supporters found themselves outmaneuvered by a "national" coalition that aimed to negotiate its way toward a consensual end of the Noumea Accord era, with or without a successful referendum on independence in 2014. The autonomous, sui generis country still lacks an official status in the French system of overseas territories.

Last year, as a committee was deliberating about local identity symbols, key political leaders decided to raise two flags over public buildings in preparation for the 2011 Pacific Games: that of France and that of Kanaky (the country name preferred by the pro-independence movement). Many people saw this conciliatory gesture as a breakthrough because loyalists had regarded the Kanaky flag as a "terrorist" emblem in the violent 1980s. Ironically, Pierre Frogier of the right-wing loyalist Rassemblement party had proposed it, and Paris and several Kanak nationalist parties (most notably the Union Calédonienne, or UC) supported the idea. But four local mayors—most of whom were connected to the reigning centrist loyalist party, Calédonie Ensemble (Caledonia Together, or CE)—refused to raise both flags together. The fourth mayor, on the outer island of Maré, resented the dominant independence coalition, the Front de Libération Nationale Kanak et Socialiste (FLNKS). Tempers rose particularly after the La Foa municipal council voted 15-2 not to raise the Kanaky flag on 12 January 2011, a day when independence supporters commemorated the killing by French police snipers of FLNKS hero Eloi Machoro in 1985 near La Foa (NC, 13 Jan 2011). The CE had taken a stand in 2010 in favor of creating a single flag for the country, in accordance with its reading of the Noumea Accord, so it refused to accept the Kanaky flag as a collective symbol. Palika (Parti de Libération Kanak)—the second largest pro-independence party, which is a leftist rival of the church- and chief-based UC—agreed with the single flag quest (NC, 31 Jan 2011), having already flown the two flags together in the Northern Province since 1988.

UC President Charles Pidjot issued an ultimatum to the four recalcitrant mayors to raise the Kanaky flag alongside the French tricolor, or else he and his party colleagues in the congressional executive (referred to locally as the government) would resign, thereby triggering a new cabinet election. This provision in the 1999 organic laws that had enacted the Noumea Accord had been used several times before when minority members felt that the majority was not respecting collegial consensus. But the current cabinet president, Philippe Gomès of the CE, said that if the UC forced the issue, his party too would resign as soon as a new government was formed in order to defend the democratic right of municipal councils to refuse to raise the Kanaky flag. Critics saw the flag issue as a pretext to enable the [End Page 390] Rassemblement and the UC to displace the CE and Palika from dominating the government (NC, 15 Feb 2011). On 18 February, the UC duly resigned from the cabinet, forcing a new election of the executive by Congress within fifteen days. Frogier and Pidjot both described their parties as "historical signers" of the peace accords of 1988 and 1998, whereas Gomès and most of his followers were not (though Palika was). The RUMP (Rassemblement-Union pour un Mouvement Populaire, the UMP being the metropolitan party of French President Nicolas Sarkozy) and the UC said they wanted to work together to "turn a page of...


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