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  • New Caledonia
  • David Chappell (bio)

With two years left before a possible referendum on independence, as stipulated in the Noumea Accord of 1998, local leaders struggled to position themselves for an “exit” from that transitional agreement. The provincial elections of 2014 may decide whether a referendum will be held or perhaps another accord will be negotiated. Fluctuations in metropolitan politics have had a significant impact on New Caledonia, notably in 1958 (when nationalist Charles de Gaulle regained power) and 1981 (when Socialist Fran-çois Mitterrand became president). French presidential elections in May 2012 saw the fall of Gaullist President Nicholas Sarkozy after only one term and the return to power of the Socialists for the first time since 1995, this time under François Hollande. Locally, the year-old alliance between the loyalist Rassemblement-ump (or rump, tied to Sarkozy’s Union pour un Mouvement Populaire) and the pro-sovereignty Front de Libération Nationale Kanak et Socialiste (flnks) suffered a setback in the June elections to the French parliament. Former territorial President Philippe Gomès’s loyalist Calédonie Ensemble (ce, Caledonia Together) won both New Caledonian deputy seats in Paris. In regional relations, the ce objected to a visit to New Caledonia by Commodore Voreqe Bainimarama of Fiji, the head of the Melanesian Spearhead Group, arguing that he has been a military dictator since his 2006 coup. Labor unions remained active, as the cost of living remained high while world nickel prices plummeted due to a slowdown in middle-class Asian demand for stainless steel. But French development aid continued to flow amid local concerns over lingering social and ethnic inequalities.

Sarkozy had proclaimed to French voters that he would strongly defend the “eternal France” of Molière, Napoleon, and Charles de Gaulle, but Hollande reminded listeners that Louis XVI lost his head to the guillotine during the French Revolution and it was the left’s turn to govern the country. Hollande opposed austerity budget cuts during the European Union’s financial crisis and instead wanted to raise taxes on the rich (bbc, 20 April, 28 Sept 2012). Sarkozy had inherited the commitment of his predecessor, Jacques Chirac, to the Noumea Accord, so transfers of self-governing powers to New Caledonia continued, most recently in civil and commercial law and civil security. But Sarkozy had also voiced his personal preference that the country should remain in the French republic, whereas Hollande remained neutral and supported an open public debate among all New Caledonians to decide their future status. Hollande and Sarkozy both wanted to promote more competition [End Page 382] among importers who kept the cost of living so high in New Caledonia, but neither wanted to end the “indexation” that paid French civil servants and retirees almost twice what they would earn in France (nc, 21 April 2012). In the second-round runoff, Sarkozy won 63 percent of the ballots in New Caledonia and 53 percent in French Polynesia, but Hollande won the French presidency; he also won clear majorities in the two Kanak-ruled provinces of New Caledonia and in Wallis and Futuna (pir, 7 May 2012; nc, 23 April 2012). Hollande appointed Victorin Lurel of Guadeloupe as overseas minister, replacing a Gaullist predecessor, also from Guadeloupe. The flnks praised Lurel as a fellow “islander,” while loyalists said he knew nothing about the Pacific (nc, 18 May 2012).

In the June elections, the rump lost its long monopoly over local representation in Paris when Gomès and Sonia Lagarde of the ce won in the second-round runoff. At first, it had looked as if the flnks might win the deputy seat for the interior of the main island, Grande Terre, because its two main parties, the Union Calédonienne (uc) and Palika (Parti de Libération Kanak), ran on the same list for once. After receiving a plurality in the first round of voting, Jean-Pierre Djaiwé of Palika was interviewed by the local newspaper before the second round, as was Gomès, who came in second in the interior in the first round, having been mayor of La Foa for twenty years. Djaiwé was pleased that the reunited flnks had clearly beaten the Rassemblement...