October 22, 2018

Campaigning starts officially for New Caledonia referendum

Campaigning has officially begun in New Caledonia for the referendum on independence from France which will be held on November the 4th.

Five political groupings represented in Congress have been given space on publicly displayed panels and been allotted airtime on broadcasters.

Two of them are for independence and three are for the status quo.

The Labour Party, which advised its supporters not to take part in the vote, unsuccessfully asked to also be given airtime to explain its stance.

The referendum asks whether voters want New Caledonia to attain full sovereignty and become independent.

Polls suggest a large majority will vote for the status quo.

France's former high commissioner to New Caledonia says statistically a victory of the pro-independence side in next month's referendum can be ruled out.

Alain Christnacht, who is one of the architects of the Noumea Accord, told the AFP news agency that it would be a surprise if as many as 45 percent of voters opted for independence.

Christnacht said few non-Kanaks were expected to vote for independence and even if all Kanaks voted for it, they would fall short of a majority.

He said the referendum on 4 November would show how many Kanaks still wanted independence, given that society had changed and many Kanaks had jobs in management and as doctors and airline pilots.

Christnacht agreed that tensions could be revived because of the referendum outcome.

He said such fears in 1998 meant that a referendum was put off until this year, but said now it could no longer be put off.

Christnacht said while recognising the value of a democratic vote, any solution going against most Kanaks wouldn't last and therefore there should be talks to find what he called a 'mixed statute'.

In his view, next year will be more important than the referendum itself.

SOURCE: RNZ PACIFIC/PACNEWS
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