Radio Sputnik discussed the upcoming referendum in New Caledonia with Walter Zweifel, a journalist at Radio New Zealand, who has covered New Caledonian affairs for a quarter of a century.
Sputnik: What has brought about the push for independence in New Caledonia? What is the overall sentiment of the population on the territory’s status?
Walter Zweifel: Well, the push for independence is something that goes essentially back to the 1970s and 1980s. And in the 1980s there was an active pro-independence movement that was clashing with the settlers or the French colonial masters and at that time, in the effort to avoid a civil war, there was an agreement reached in 1988 and then reconfirmed in 1998 to defer any vote on independence for twenty years. That signed in 1998, making 2018 the final date. So it’s a process that has been managed over a long time, it’s been a period of peace and consensus leading up to this referendum. In terms of the overall sentiment, we can say that the pro-independence parties are in the minority in New Caledonia and an assumption could be that a majority will vote to stay with France.
Sputnik: Now I was just discussing before we came on air this special word, "collectivity." Perhaps you can just explain to us what the status means actually of special collectivity and what rights does the population of the archipelago enjoy with regard to the country?
Walter Zweifel: Well, in view of New Caledonia having this opportunity to vote to be an independent country, they created different electoral rolls. So the people allowed to vote in this independence referendum are on a separate roll, on a separate list. And in order to be eligible to vote in this referendum, you have to have lived in New Caledonia since 1998. This is a measure that was put in place by the pro-independence FLNKS Kanak movement to make sure that France could not flood the territory with immigrants and then have a numerical advantage by pushing the numbers on their side with people possibly in favor of France. There’s also another list for territorial elections, which is also restricted to long-term residents. So New Caledonia has this, in a way unusual status, that it is part of France, is France, the people who live in New Caledonia vote in French elections, they vote for the French president, be it Macron or whatever. But at the same time when it comes to domestic affairs, it’s restricted to people who have been there for a long time. And in order to make it possible, the French constitution had to be amended, because you have to have French citizens who live in New Caledonia who are not allowed to vote in what is essentially their own future, because they’ve not lived there long enough.
Sputnik: Now, what do French authorities think about the territory’s aspirations? If the territory votes in favor of sovereignty, will there be any backlash from Paris?
Sputnik: Why, from your point of view, why has there been such a wave of referendums globally lately in your view? Do you think that other overseas territories will also strive for this desire, this absolute need for independence? Is that the way the future is going? More countries will wish to gain independence?
Walter Zweifel: In the South Pacific and in the area which we or I cover, most countries or most island territories or colonies have become independent. There are very few colonies left and I don’t think that there is any spark that is going from this to any other territories, like American Samoa, which is the US territory. It’s also a territory on the UNDS decolonization list, but it’s a place where a huge majority does not want to sever ties with the United States. In French Polynesia the situation is slightly different. There France is not supporting any move towards a referendum, although I would dare think that in French Polynesia the majority would also want to stay with France. And then the other territories, the American territories, they are not up to have this issue tested; I’m talking about Guam and the Northern Marianas, which are also the territories that are partly on the UN decolonization list.
The views and opinions expressed in this article are solely those of the speaker and do not necessarily reflect those of Sputnik.