‘France still doesn’t understand us Kanaks after 30 years of dialogue’

Palika pro-independence activist Aile Tikoure
Palika pro-independence activist Aile Tikoure ... "I don't consider this as an act of war. The government didn't speak to the Kanaks." Image: RNZ

By Jan Kohout in Noumea

There have been mixed opinions from New Caledonia’s communities after the third and final referendum returned a 96 percent vote against independence.

While anti-independence parties welcomed the victory, the pro-independence Kanak side refuse to recognise the result.

The turnout of potential voters was especially low among the Kanak community because most Kanaks abstained from the voting process.

In the two previous referendums before the boycott — in 2018 and 2020 — the result was very close with the pro-independence vote rising.

Turnout at this year’s referendum was estimated at only 43.87 percent of the eligible electorate, compared to 85.69 percent in the 2020 plebiscite.

Aile Tikoure, an activist from the pro-independence Palika Party, says many Kanaks boycotted the referendum because France refused to postpone it until next year, despite the covid pandemic.

“No, no I haven’t voted. Instructions were clear from the party, I didn’t vote,” he says.

“I don’t consider this as an act of war. The government didn’t speak to the Kanaks — that is no respect for our fight.

“They still haven’t understood us after 30 years of dialogue that this country would be nothing without us. They want to do this without us. It’s an insult. We feel left out from any political discussion.”

Boycott was ‘a victory’
Another pro-independence activist, Florenda Nirikani, says the boycott was a victory.

“I would say it’s a victory from the performance of our Kanak community and a good performance — the word has been followed at 56 percent,” she says.

“Now that victory is over we are at a stage where people are asking what do we do now?

“We are at a stage of questioning. Two days after the referendum there a lot of people that ask me well what do we do now. We were prepared for the 97 percent that said no.

“We are here to say we Kanaks are proud that the level of absence in the referendum was a good victory.”

Florenda Nirikani does not expect to see violence as a result of the referendum result.

However, pro-independence activists have made it clear that there will be no negotiating with the current Macron government. The French presidential elections are due in April.

Pro-independence Kanak activist Florenda Nirikani
Pro-independence activist Florenda Nirikani … “No, things have stayed calm and I don’t think we will see violence.” Image: RNZ

No talking to French officials
“No, things have stayed calm and I don’t think we will see violence. However, in the days or the weeks to come there will be some questioning from the activists.

“There has been a word out not to talk to a single French government official so negotiations will not happen between Kanaks and the current French government.

“[French Overseas Minister Sebastien] Lecornu [has been] here in New Caledonia last week. The customary Senate has refused to meet with him and some customary officials have boycotted meetings.

“The position expressed is that no Kanak represententatives will meet with the current government,” Nirikani says.

Negotiations between the Kanaks and French state are not expected to resume before next year’s French presidential election.

This article is republished under a community partnership agreement with RNZ.

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