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By Nic Maclellan at Ko We Kara, New Caledonia
In a bold display of flags and music, New Caledonia’s independence coalition Front de Liberation Nationale Kanak et Socialiste (FLNKS) held its final election rally on Thursday night at Ko We Kara, in preparation for this weekend’s elections.
On Sunday, New Caledonian voters will choose between 25 competing electoral lists seeking seats in three provincial assemblies in the Northern, Southern and Loyalty Islands Provinces. A proportion of the 76 provincial representatives also serve in the 54-member national Congress and the multi-party Government of New Caledonia.
Last November’s referendum on self-determination in New Caledonia – potentially the first of three such votes under the 1998 Noumea Accord – put wind in the sails of the independence movement. At the time, opinion polls put support for independence at 25-30 per cent - but the final Yes vote of 43.3 per cent, gave supporters of independence the hope and momentum that a future victory is possible. As FLNKS spokesperson Daniel Goa said after the vote: “We lost on the numbers but it was a great victory for us.”
In this election, the FLNKS leadership has reaffirmed its plan to proceed to a further referendum after this week’s elections (just one third of the incoming Congress can call for another referendum, to be held in 2020).
The independence movement, however, is presenting a broader vision to the electorate. The pro-independence party manifestos include diverse policies addressing democratic governance, community well-being, the environment and sustainability, social services, infrastructure and development funding, and the challenge of providing jobs, decent housing and livelihoods for young, disadvantaged Kanaks.
Contest in the north and islands
In the Southern Province, where anti-independence parties dominate the institutions, the independence movement is running a united ‘FLNKS Sud’ ticket, involving representatives from all four-member parties of the FLNKS as well as NGO activists and other supporters of reform.
In New Caledonia’s Northern and Islands Provinces – where the population is mostly indigenous Kanak and the independence movement have an overwhelming majority in the assemblies – different parties and coalitions are running are separate electoral tickets for the provincial assemblies.
In the north of the main island Grande Terre, the Union Nationale de l’Independance (UNI), links the Parti de Libération Kanak (Palika), Union Progressiste Mélanésienne (UPM) and other supporters, headed by Paul Neaoutyine, the long-serving provincial president.
Daniel Goa, the president of the largest pro-independence party Union Calédonienne (UC) leads the UN-FLNKS list, while former teacher Rock Doui from the northern town of Pouebo leads the Parti Travailliste (PT) list “Osons le changement” (Dare to change).
UC and PT are seeking a renewal of the Palika-led administration in the North, given Paul Neaoutyine has served as provincial premier since the current assemblies were first elected in 1999.
Jean-Pierre Djaiwe is placed third on the UNI-Nord list for the Northern Provincial assembly. He told Islands Business that the issues are different between these elections and last November’s referendum on self-determination.
“Last year, we held a referendum so that the people of New Caledonia could decide whether to accede to full sovereignty,” Djaiwe said. “It was an important moment, because this was a long-held objective of Jean-Marie Tjibaou – that the country achieves full sovereignty and independence. Today, we must continue that mobilisation.”
“Last November, we asked people to mobilise for the country, so that our nation could accede to full sovereignty. For the elections about to take place, it’s another challenge. We’re voting for people who will take their place in the governance of our institutions, and to govern the country.
“The stakes are different but just as important - we need to prepare for the country to be independent and it’s through these institutions that the country will be independent. During this election campaign, we hope that people will mobilise as they did before to elect new members of the provincial assemblies.”
A key debate in these elections has been the question of renewal of political leadership, and providing opportunities for young people to take their place in the political institutions. On the Right, long-standing political leaders like Pierre Frogier, Gael Yanno and Harold Martin have stepped aside (or been pushed aside) from leadership of the anti-independence electoral lists.
Despite this, the FLNKS has maintained its old guard in top positions on the UNI and UC elections lists – Neaoutyine in the North, Wamytan in the South and Jacques Lalié and Charles Washetine in the Loyalty Islands. Louis Kotra Uregei, the long-time President of the left-wing Parti Travailliste (PT) is running separate tickets across all three provinces, but is likely to score best in the Loyalty Islands, where he heads the ticket and PT has a significant base of support.
In response, across the three provinces, other lists are being run by young Kanaks, who feel that their time has come, such as the Luther Voundjo’s Mouvement néo-indépendantiste et souverainiste (MNIS) or Davy Bolo’s ‘Unitaire Kanaky génération’ in the Loyalty Islands. These small lists however are unlikely to garner much support and will not receive enough votes to reach the 5 per cent bar that allows candidates to take up a seat.
In the north, UC President Daniel Goa notes that the pro-independence vote in last year’s referendum drew in support from non-Kanak communities, even though the bulk of the pro-independence electorate is drawn from the indigenous Kanak people.
The UC list in the north includes a number of mayors from different municipalities, including Robert Courtot of the west coast town of Pouembout – from a long-established Caldoche family [locally-born Europeans].
Goa told Islands Business: “One thing we’ve found is that many people have welcome that Union Calédonienne has opened its list in the north to people from other communities. Many Caldoche are surprised but pleased that Robby Courtot, the Mayor of Pouembout, is on our list. But we want people from all communities to support the Kanak people in their quest for independence.”
Palika’s Paul Neaoutyine also addressed this concern with local media: “The UNI list includes candidates representing the non-Kanak component of the New Caledonian citizens, including Jean Creugnet, Takahahake Fuahea, Meryl Marlier and Jacqueline Roussel. Many non-Kanak people, New Caledonians of the bush, have found their place in our approach to citizenship and our policies, even if many are still reluctant to join our party or place their name on a pro-independence electoral list.”
In the southern province, UC leader Roch Wamytan also highlighted the presence of young Caldoche environmental activist Amandine Darras on the united FLNKS Sud list: “This is a recognition of the importance of the issues of environment, renewable energy and biodiversity, but also of the changing support for the FLNKS.”
Wamtyan said: “For the FLNKS, Paul and myself are the remaining signatories to the Noumea Accord, together with Victor Tutugoro and the late Charley Pidjot. As we near the end of the Noumea Accord transition, the end of this decolonisation process, we have a duty to see it to the end before passing the baton to a new generation.” .
SOURCE: ISLANDS BUSINESS/PACNEWS
Pacific Islands News Association
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