Voting is under way in New Caledonia today in the last of three referendums on independence from France.
The pro-independence parties said they will not take part in today’s vote and will not recognise its result because Paris repeatedly refused to postpone the plebiscite to next year.
They argued that the pandemic with its lockdown and continuing restrictions did not allow them to conduct a fair campaign and therefore they asked their supporters not to vote.
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In last year’s second referendum, just over 53 percent voted against independence while turnout was almost 86 percent.
Irrespective of the outcome of today’s vote, France is keen to work towards a new statute for New Caledonia, with the French Overseas Minister Sébastien Lecornu at hand in Noumea in the days ahead, but pro-independence parties said the visit is unwelcome and just another “provocation”.
While the minister said he would outline details of the 18-month transition phase following the vote in upcoming talks, the pro-independence parties ruled out meeting him and said any negotiations would have to wait until after the French presidential election in April.
The customary Kanak Senate, which is a forum of traditional leaders, has now declared today as a day of mourning for the victims of the pandemic and called on Kanaks not to vote.
Its president Yvon Kona also appealed for calm so as there is no trouble on polling day.
An extra 2000 police and military personnel were flown in from France to provide security across the territory.
Complaint that Lecornu flouted covid-19 rules
A small pro-independence party lodged a formal complaint against Lecornu in France after reports that the minister flouted covid-19 restrictions during his previous New Caledonia visit in October.
The news site Mediapart reported that Lecornu went for drinks at a meeting with New Caledonian politicians.
The complaint alleges that by breaking the rules he endangered the health of others.
The ministry said the event was a work-related multilateral exchange.
It said in turn it intends to lodge a complaint against the party for defamation.
France without New Caledonia ‘less beautiful’, says Macron
French President Emmanuel Macron said that whatever the outcome of today’s referendum, there would be a life together.
He said the day after the referendum, they would be together to build the aftermath, in particular given the geopolitical reality of the region.
Macron said the role of the French government was not to be in either camp.
However, he said a France without New Caledonia would be “less beautiful”.
This article is republished under a community partnership agreement with RNZ.