The Contemporary Pacific 14.2 (2002) 446-455
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Department of History, University of Hawai'i, Manoa
As France continued to delegate administrative and fiscal responsibilities to the territory in compliance with the 1998 Noumea Accord, the March 2001 municipal elections, challenges in forming the executive council of the Congress, and senatorial elections in [End Page 446] September all revealed growing complexity in local politics as well as disarray in the pro-independence coalition. John Connell (1988, 231) once argued that the confrontation between a pro-independence indigenous front and an entrenched colonial system bolstered by resident loyalists gave New Caledonia more nationalist cohesion than other linguistically diverse Melanesian countries, which have been wracked by secession movements, civil wars, and military coups. The inverse of his idea may also be coming true, that is, in an officially postcolonial era, New Caledonia's ethnic and linguistic diversity may undermine the old polarized fronts (even as Fiji's harden) in ways that would make the martyrs of the 1980s scratch their heads in wonder. In the context of a local labor strike, a commentator declared, "It's no longer class struggle, but a struggle for places[posts]" (NH,22-28 Feb 2001; the rhyme works better in French), and perhaps those words could apply just as well to local politics.
One of the ironies of the municipal elections in the territory is that they are directly controlled by Paris, which unilaterally seized that power in 1969 as part of its withdrawal of autonomy from the territory during a nickel boom. At this most intimate level of the democratic process, even 3,000 local residents who come from member countries of the European Community other than France are eligible to vote in the thirty-three Caledonian communal elections. Another imposition from the metropole was a new electoral law that requires gender parity, that is, each party must present as many women candidates as men. This progressive proposal was opposed by some Caledonian leaders, such as loyalist Kanak Senator Simon Loueckhote, who argued that the territory was simply not prepared for such a sudden change—a stand that set off street protests by local women (Chappell2001, 544-545) and led to a compromise that exempted smaller communes of less than 3,500 inhabitants. Another factor was the March 2000 law against the "accumulation of mandates," which prohibits politicians from holding more than one major elected office, for example, mayor of a large commune, congressional president, or member of French parliament. For 753 seats on municipal councils, 3,559 candidates campaigned on 149 party lists; voters had to opt for an entire list, not individuals, and seats were allocated on the basis of proportional representation (minimum: 5 percent of votes cast). In larger communes, a list that won an absolute majority gained not only that, but also a proportion of the remaining seats; if no list won an absolute majority, a run-off election was held, andlosers who wonbetween 5 and 10 percent of the votes could form new coalitions to contest the second round.
The loyalist Rassemblement pour la Calédonie dans la République (RPCR) generally showed more unity, with the notable exception of Paita, where Harold Martin won reelection by defying party chief Jacques Lafleur, who wanted to replace him as mayor with his cousin Ronald. The pro-independence Front de Libération NationaleKanaketSocialiste(FLNKS), in contrast, proved rather weak as an electoral framework at the local level, [End Page 447] as its coalition members ran at times on one list, at other times on separate lists, and sometimes on lists combined with other parties, and local Kanak factionalism became pronounced. The two main coalition partners, the Union Calédonienne(UC) and Palika (Parti de Libération Kanak), once again ran separately, but even the UC was split, ever since seven of its congressional representatives had broken away from the leadership of Rock Wamytan the previous year. On each of the outer islandsof Lifou and Mare, about 5,000 voters had to choose between eight or nine lists, including several alliances "against nature" (ie...