- Melanesia in Review: Issues and Events, 2013New Caledonia
In a year leading up to the 2014 municipal and provincial elections and a possible choice to hold a referendum on independence (or another negotiated accord), French loyalists and Kanak nationalists debated and postured, with some crossover on particular issues, while questions of sustainable development and reducing inequalities loomed in the background. The most dramatic event of the year was a massive protest against the high cost of living, as autonomy powers continued to devolve from Paris, which maintained its high levels of financial and technical aid. Defining local citizenship and voting rights became contentious, and environmental concerns haunted the expanding nickel mining and processing industry that fuels much of the local economy. It was also a year of commemorations, reconciliations, and regionalism.
In a survey conducted by the local government (nc, 27 Feb 2013), only three political leaders garnered public confidence ratings of 40 percent or higher: Paul Neaoutyine (47 percent), the pro-independence president of the Kanak-ruled Northern Province; Philippe Gomès (44 percent, though 40 percent said they distrusted him), deputy to the French National Assembly and leader of the loyalist Calédonie Ensemble (ce, Caledonia Together) party; and Gaël Yanno (40 percent), who had lost his deputy seat to Gomès in 2012, became a dissident within the loyalist Rassemblement-Union pour un Mouvement Populaire (rump), and finally created his own party, the Mouvement Populaire Calédonien (mpc), as well as a new coalition [End Page 495] against independence, the Union pour la Calédonie dans la France (ucf). Taken together, these leaders represent the three largest political groupings in the country today, though Neaoutyine’s Parti de Libération Kanak (Palika) is rivaled in the independence movement by leaders such as Rock Wamytan of the Union Calédonienne (uc), who is president of the Congress of New Caledonia, and Yanno is challenging his former rump boss, Senator Pierre Frogier. The pro-independence Front de Libération Nationale Kanak et Socialiste (flnks), of which the uc and Palika are the largest of five member parties, has been trying to act together, but the loyalist factions of Gomès, Yanno, and Frogier have been waging bitter internecine politics for some time now. The ce has accused the rump of working in ad hoc coalition with the uc-flnks (that combination brought down the Gomès presidency of the executive cabinet in 2011), while Yanno’s mpc/ucf has accused Gomès of agreeing too often with Palika on socioeconomic issues. In September 2013, cabinet president Harold Martin of the Avenir Ensemble party (ae, Future Together, an ally of the rump) closed the doors of Congress temporarily after political disputes over whether to finance moderate rental housing, leading the local paper to ask, “Is the country ungovernable?” (nc, 11 Sept 2013). In view of the 2014 elections, it may become a challenge to elect a new cabinet president.
Yet the delegation of governing powers from Paris to Noumea continues, in compliance with the 1998 Noumea Accord. The Overseas Ministry of the Socialist government in Paris created a new structure to “accompany” New Caledonia as new administrative authority was being granted to the country, such as control over secondary and higher education, commercial and civil law, accident insurance, audiovisual communications, maritime and domestic aviation security, and civil defense (including fire departments). Because some transfers have been controversial or have languished for lack of preparation, a special delegate of the ministry will supervise and facilitate administrative reorganization and personnel training (nc, 19 April 2013). Commissioners sent by the French Parliament to examine the local situation expressed regrets that so little groundwork had been done since 1998 to enable such devolutions, which they had hoped would help the country to reduce socioeconomic inequalities. They concluded that local political quarrels over the country’s future status had become an impediment to addressing problems of high living costs and unemployment, so Paris needed to take a more active role in pursuing a “decolonization” that offered better wealth distribution (nc, 9 Sept 2013). The French Parliament passed a special law that enables New Caledonia to create “independent” institutions as needed...