The president of New Caledonia’s collegial government says good progress is being made towards a referendum on possible independence, despite several challenges.
Philippe Germain was in New Zealand this week on a mission to strengthen economic and political ties between the two neighbours. Territory is nearing the end of the 1998 Nouméa Accord, which sets the path for a vote on independence from France to be held by the end of 2018.
New Caledonia is grappling with political divisions as the referendum nears, including disputes over the drawing up of an electoral roll. Walter Zweifel began by asking Mr Germain, who does not support independence, what he makes of calls to stage the referendum earlier than 2018. His words are translated.
PHILIPPE GERMAIN: We do not wish to organise it now as we want first to work on the question, and which question we are going to put forward because there are three questions already and if we receive a ‘yes’ answer to all three questions New Caledonia will be independent. Yet, as of now we know that approximately seventy percent of our New Caledonian population is in favour of a ‘no’ and wishes to stay within the French Republic. What we do want to do is to bring a question and work on how we formulate the question as to bring the population together so that there wouldn’t be any losers at the outcome of this referendum. That is to say, we need to find a compromise towards more autonomy, but yet it has to be in line with the willingness and the desire of both parties; the parties that are in favour of independence and the parties that are in favour of staying within the French Republic.
WALTER ZWEIFEL: New Caledonia’s had two long periods with accords. Are you in favour of having a third accord after the Noumea Accord to possibly defer a decision on independence?
PG: The question is not about what I want, but rather on what the New Caledonian population wants and as of today, no, there was no agreement as to organise a third accord, especially from pro-independence parties as they believe it is time to directly ask the population what they want. The accord of Noumea, if we receive a ‘no’ answer, says that the parties around the table must meet to face the situation hence created to consider this status and the evolution of the country in the future. So our idea today is to work on the after-referendum and to work on the model of a society for tomorrow as to our future, and we need to ask ourselves what will be the question of the legal status of New Caledonia. Will we stay within France or will we become independent?
What I believe and what we believe is that 80-90 percent of these new terms we are going to decide on after 2018 needs to be agreed on, and maybe there will be a 10 percent ,margin on which we still need to work on and find – maybe some disagreements. We consider also, and this is the role of the government of New Caledonia, to answer the social and economic matters because we believe that the status matter – legal status matter – will be less important, we’d rather focus on the social and economic aspects. We need all New Caledonians, whatever ethnic group they belong to, whatever their political trends or options and preferences, to be acknowledged as part of the New Caledonian population, they need to be able to work, to educate their children, to find housing easily, etc.
WZ: The Caledonian history of the 1980s had had a few flash points, there was some violence. There are extremists even today, there are some people who expect that the decolonisation process underway will lead to independence. How will you, or how will New Caledonia cope with extremist positions should they be the losers and be told that they will not be independent. What sort of contingency is there in place in New Caledonia, possibly in France?
PG: We always need to fix ourselves with clear objectives, and as we say in French: “Fear doesn’t present from the danger.” Yet, both New Caledonia and France are working on this referendum question and in the best conditions possible, so I don’t believe there is any reason to doubt the conditions that will be organised. We have all the same objectives and the forces brought together around the table will be, and must be, superior to any kind of extremist form that could appear.
WZ: France has an advanced administration, it’s a first world country, how can you explain that these electoral rolls, the electoral lists, have been so difficult to finalise that it’s an ongoing issue for months and judges have to be brought in from France to check on who is eligible to vote or not. How can you explain that in the context of France?
PG: This stems more from a political game than a political will. Indeed there was a question raised as to the electoral roll as to who can vote for the New Caledonian institutional elections. Some pro-independence leaders, who only represent really themselves rather than the political party they belong to, considered that there were about 15,000 New Caledonian people that should not be on the list or that could be denied. France, in a will to be fully transparent on this matter, wanted to show that it was not the case and accepted, therefore, to study all the lists in detail and therefore experts from the United Nations were assigned or appointed to study all 15,000 cases.
In the end, with all the work and analysis carried out, we finally found that only 100 people more-or-less could be deleted on some grounds that were put forward as they couldn’t prove the date of their arrival in New Caledonia. So this question, this matter, polluted our political life and our community life for about three years now, but still with the help of the United Nations and of France it appeared that it wasn’t really a problem and they were only isolated cases.
For the original source of this article, click here: http://www.radionz.co.nz/international/programmes/datelinepacific/audio/201804054/new-caledonia’s-germain-says-noumea-accord-process-on-track