New Caledonia's pro-independence parties file first referendum challenge

Palika, one of New Caledonia's main pro-independence movements, has filed an appeal challenging the 12 December referendum on self-determination, which they boycotted and then lost.

An independent Kanak flag bearing the effigy of Atai, leader of a 1878 insurrection against French rule.
An independent Kanak flag bearing the effigy of Atai, leader of a 1878 insurrection against French rule. Theo Rouby - Theo Rouby

A spokesman for the Kanak Liberation Party said Thursday that his Palika movement and other pro-independence parties in the National Union for Independence coalition lodged their appeal with the Council of State.

The 12 December poll – the third and final referendum allowed under the 1998 Noumea accords – returned as resounding "no" to to independence from France, with over 96 percent of the vote.

Washetine claimed the conditions under which the referendum was organised "altered the sincerity of the consultation". 

He said further requests would be put forward in the coming days before the Council of State and then before international bodies.

Pro-independence parties had asked for the vote to be postponed, citing a period of mourning because of the Covid-19 epidemic, which has killed 280 people, mostly, Kanaks, since September.

Covid restrictions, they argue, made campaigning impossible.

Faced with the France's refusal to reschedule the referendum, they called for on pro-independence supporters to boycott the polls.

Low turnout calls result into question

The result, however, has been marred by a weak turnout of just under 44 percent of registered voters.

Palika said that it did not feel bound by the timetable set out by the Minister for Overseas Territories, Sébastien Lecornu, which provides for a transition period starting on 13 December ahead of a referendum slated for June 2023 to determine the future status of the territory.

Just one day after the vote, the secessionists had already announced that they would refuse to discuss any new status other than independence and that these discussions would not take place before the French presidential election in April 2022.

Hopes of "a period of stability and convergence" following the vote have been thrown into doubt after the Kanaks said France’s insistence on holding the referendum was “a declaration of war".

There are fears the archipelago, which has been a French territory since 1853, could return to the violence last seen 30 years ago, before the feuding parties reached successive cooperation deals.

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