Leading French politicians have welcomed New Caledonia’s rejection of independence, but pro-independence leaders have dismissed the result.
More than 96 percent voted against independence in a poll boycotted by the pro-independence camp.
Senate president Gerard Larcher said the challenge now was to make New Caledonia a land of harmony and progress, respectful of its plural identities, and sure of its economic potential.
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French President Emmanuel Macron has welcomed the result, saying France is “more beautiful” because New Caledonia decided to remain part of it.
He said that with the end of the Noumea Accord, the territory was free of the binary choice between yes and no.
Macron said a new common project must now be built while recognising and respecting the dignity of everyone.
Valerie Pecresse, who is presidential candidate of the centre-right Republicans, said there was a choice, a clear choice, and a massive choice, and obviously New Caledonia, as other overseas territories, is also France.
Work needed on unity
Marine Le Pen of the far-right National Rally said New Caledonia remained French, adding that work now needed to be done to restore unity.
A new right-wing presidential candidate, Eric Zemmour, has hailed the outcome, saying the New Caledonians’ will is final and they will remain French.
But left-wing presidential candidate Jean-Luc Melenchon, who had backed calls for a postponement, said the result was not legitimate.
The president of New Caledonia’s Southern Province Sonia Backes said that after the referendum victory, the question of whether New Caledonia belonged to France no longer arose.
Backes said the sad dreams of independence at the “cost of ruin, exclusion and misery” had been shattered on the loyalists’ pioneer soul, resilience and love for New Caledonia.
Philippe Michel, a Congress member since 1999, said the voters’ verdict was indisputable.
Gil Brial, who heads MPC, said the victory was not only a legal one but also a political one because it was the pro-independence parties which had demanded the third referendum.
Nina Julie of Generations NC said this victory meant that New Caledonians would keep their French passports.
‘Illegitimate and bogus’
A leading New Caledonian pro-independence leader, Roch Wamytan, who was a signatory for the 1998 Noumea Accord which provided for three referendums by 2022, said his side would not recognise the referendum result, describing it as illegitimate and bogus.
The pro-independence parties wanted the third referendum to be postponed until next year, due to the impact of covid-19 which has mainly affected the Kanak people. But Paris ruled it had to be held this month.
Speaking in Paris after a visit to the UN Decolonisation Committee in New York, Wamytan said the vote should have been about the Kanak people, who have been colonised since 1853.
“It’s a travesty. It’s the referendum of Mr Macron and Mr Lecornu and their allies in New Caledonia. It’s not a referendum that concerns the Kanak people,” he said.
Wamytan has confirmed that the pro-independence side would not sit down for talks with the French government before next year’s election.
New Caledonia has been on the UN decolonisation list since 1986.
This article is republished under a community partnership agreement with RNZ.