Backes rejects delaying New Caledonia independence referendum


A leading anti-independence politician in New Caledonia Sonia Backes has rejected calls for the referendum on independence from France to be postponed, saying it should be held as planned.

Pro-independence politicians have asked Paris to postpone the vote, which is due on 12 December, until next year because of the impact of the Covid-19 pandemic on the Kanak population.

About 10,000 mainly Kanak people have been infected since early September and more than 200 patients have died.

In a letter to her rivals, s Backes, who is the president of the Southern Province, said campaigning should resume as vaccinations are being ramped up, and soon 80 percent of those over 12 will be vaccinated.

She said it was the pro-independence side, which in April unanimously wanted to have this third referendum, when there could have been the option of negotiating a way forward instead of seeking a divisive vote.

Backes said talk of a boycott is misplaced because there is no basis for such a stance, wondering how the United Nations and the observers would be able to understand such a move.

She said waiting for an outcome of the vote stops all initiative, hampers economic development and discourages people who want to have a perspective and a future.

The French overseas minister Sebastien Lecornu, who met New Caledonian leaders in Noumea last weekend, wants to maintain the December date he set in June.

He said only an out-of-control pandemic could justify a postponement.

In 2018 and 2020, a majority voted against independence, but the winning margin shrank from 56.7 percent to 53.3 percent.