France’s national assembly has voted on postponing provincial elections in New Caledonia that are a prerequisite for constitutional reforms that are supposed to review the electoral system in the French overseas territory.

On Monday – following the vote’s validation by the Senate – members of the French parliament are now considering what will be a very brief legislation, that will postpone the provincial elections in New Caledonia slated for this May “to 15 December 2024 at the latest”.

The elections are crucial for New Caledonia, where the regional provinces hold a large proportion of the territory’s powers.

The postponement of a few months is the first – and least sensitive – stage in the long journey expected to reform the archipelago’s institutions, against a backdrop of stalled negotiations with pro-independence parties.

The new deadline is “reasonable in order to give local political negotiations a chance to reach a successful conclusion”, according to French Interior Minister Gérald Darmanin.

The government is working on a constitutional reform that promises to be much more fraught, since the two main pro-independence parties in New Caledonia are opposed to it at this stage.

The plan is to “unfreeze” the electorate in order to pave the way towards provincial elections – reserved for natives and residents who arrived before 1998 and their descendants – to people who have lived in New Caledonia for at least ten years.

Darmanin has deplored the fact that almost “one in five voters” cannot currently vote in local elections in New Caledonia, a “freezing of the electorate” that “is not in line with the essential principles of democracy or the values of the Republic”, he believes.

A decisive congress of the Front de libération kanak socialiste (FLNKS), which brings together the main pro-independence movements, is scheduled to take place on 23 March, three days before the Senate examines the reform.

In this context, according to pro-Macron MP for New Caledonia, Philippe Dunoyer, the delay of the elections is “necessary”, but in no way “prejudges the outcome of the discussions and could even, if circumstances require, not be the last”.