The French Election in the Pacific – by Grant Wyeth (The Diplomat – May 3, 2017)

The outcome of the French presidential election has ramifications for Paris’ Pacific territories.

While the two-candidate runoff for France’s presidency this coming Sunday poses a potential existential threat for Europe, the result will also be of great significant for France’s overseas territories in the Pacific.

Although the territories of New Caledonia and French Polynesia have some levels of autonomy and their own elected assemblies, they legally remain part of France, and are therefore afforded the right to participate in France’s legislative and presidential elections. And they are, of course, also greatly affected by France’s election outcomes.

However, despite this right and the potential for a dramatic shift in the French state’s agenda should the National Front’s Marine Le Pen win the presidency, there seems to be general voter apathy, or a disconnect, within France’s Pacific territories.

In the first round of voting for the presidential election, voter abstention was at record highs in with 61 percent of the eligible public in French Polynesia failing to vote, and 51 percent of those in New Caledonia doing likewise.

In New Caledonia, this voter apathy raises concerns about enthusiasm for the forthcoming referendum on independence that is scheduled to be held no later than November 2018. Similar voter apathy for the referendum would bring its legitimacy into question.

The Nouméa Accord of 1998 devolved a number of powers from France to New Caledonia, allowing the territory some autonomy of its own affairs; however Paris maintained control over the military, foreign policy, immigration, police, and currency within the territory. The accord also provided a provision for the referendum on independence.

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