Kanaky New Caledonia unrest: What happens to limbo law change with French snap election?

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Kanaky New Caledonia's President Louis Mapou
Kanaky New Caledonia's President Louis Mapou . . . France has "reopened a wound that has taken so long to heal". Image: NC La 1ère TV

ANALYSIS: By Patrick Decloitre, RNZ Pacific correspondent French Pacific desk

French President Emmanuel Macron’s surprise dissolution of the National Assembly and call for snap general elections on June 30 and July 7 has implications for New Caledonia.

Grave civil unrest and rioting broke out on May 13 in reaction to a controversial constitutional amendment, directly affecting the voting system in local elections.

The National Assembly decisively voted for the change on May 14. A few weeks earlier, on April 2, the Senate (Upper House) had approved the same text.

However, the proposed constitutional change — which would open the list of eligible voters to an extra 25,000 citizens, mostly non-indigenous Kanaks — remains in limbo, as it needs to go through a final stage.

This final step is a vote in the French Congress, during a special sitting of both the Senate and National Assembly with a required 60 per cent majority.

Macron earlier indicated he would summon the Congress some time by the end of June.

During a quick visit to New Caledonia on May 23, he said he would agree to wait for some time to allow inclusive talks to take place between local leaders, concerning the long-term political future of New Caledonia — but the end of June deadline still remained.

There is also a technicality that would make the adopted text (still subject to the French Congress’s final approval) impossible to apply in its current form: with a now dissolved National Assembly and snap elections scheduled on June 30 (first round) and July 7 (second round), the French Congress (which includes the National Assembly) will definitely not be able to convene before mid-July.

Yet, the constitutional law, as endorsed in its present form by both Houses, is formulated in such a way that it “shall come into force on 1 July 2024” (article 2).

Since last month, there have been numerous calls from pro-independence and pro-France parties, as well as religious and civil society leaders, to scrap the text altogether, as a precondition to the return of some kind of civil peace and normalcy in the French Pacific archipelago.

Similar calls have been issued by former French prime ministers who had been directly in charge of New Caledonia’s affairs.

‘The end of life of this constitutional law’ – Mapou
New Caledonia’s President Louis Mapou, in a speech at the weekend, mentioned the controversial text before Macron’s dissolution announcement.

Mapou said the current unrest in New Caledonia, mostly by pro-independence parties, had de facto “signalled the end of life of this constitutional law”.

Macron [right] with New Caledonia’s President Louis Mapou [left] and Congress President Roch Wamytan [centre] – Photo supplied pool
French President Emmanuel Macron (right) with New Caledonia’s territorial President Louis Mapou (left) and Congress President Roch Wamytan during Macron’s brief visit to Nouméa last month. Image: RNZ/Pool

But he also called on Macron to clarify explicitly that he intended to withdraw the controversial text, perceived as the main cause for unrest in New Caledonia.

He said that the text, which he said had been “unilaterally decided” by France, had “reopened a wound that has taken so long to heal”.

The constitutional law, he said, was “against the current of New Caledonia’s recent history”, and was “useless because it has to be part of a global project”.

“In my humble opinion, this constitutional law, therefore, cannot continue to exist.

“By saying (last month in Nouméa) that it will not be forced through, the French President too, between the lines, has signified its death and its slow abandonment . . .

“It is difficult to imagine that the President would still want to table this constitutional bill (before the French Congress),” Mapou said.

Does the dissolution now mean the proposed voting system change is dead?
What the French Constitution says is that all pending bills left unvoted on by the Lower House are cancelled because the dissolution signifies the end of the legislature and therefore of the current ordinary session.

In the particular case of New Caledonia’s constitutional text, which has already been passed by both Houses, the general perception is that it would probably “die a beautiful death” after being given the dissolution final coup de grâce.

Obviously, now that the French National Assembly has been dissolved, the French Congress cannot sit.

“We’re now in caretaker mode and all outstanding bills are now cancelled,” outgoing National Assembly President Yaël Braun-Pivet said on French public television France 2 on Monday.

Local political reactions
On the local political scene, a few parties have been swift to react, with the pro-independence platform FLNKS (an umbrella group of pro-independence parties) saying it was now preparing to run for New Caledonia’s two constituencies in the French National Assembly.

FLNKS is holding its national congress next weekend 15 June 15.

New Caledonia’s two seats are held by two pro-France (loyalist) leaders, Nicolas Metzdorf and Philippe Dunoyer.

Daniel Goa, president of the Union Calédonienne (UC, the largest and one of the more radical components of the FLNKS), said the “mobilisation” at the heart of the current civil unrest would not stop.

But in order to allow movement during the snap general election campaign which is due to start shortly, he said there could be more flexibility in the roadblocks.

The barricades still remain in many parts of New Caledonia, and especially the capital Nouméa and its suburbs.

“We will reinforce our representation at (French) national level,” Goa said, anticipating the results of the forthcoming snap general election.

But there are also concerns regarding the way New Caledonia’s current crisis will be handled during the “caretaker” period, and who will be in charge of the sensitive issue in the next French government.

A “dialogue mission” consisting of three high-level public servants stayed in New Caledonia from May 23 to last week.

It was tasked to restore some kind of talks with all local parties and economic, civil society stakeholders.

Last week, it returned to Paris to provide a report on the situation and the advancement of talks aimed at finding a consensus on New Caledonia’s political future.

When they left last week, they said they would return to New Caledonia.

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

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