This story was originally published on RNZ.co.nz and will be republished with permission.
Voters in New Caledonia overwhelmingly rejected independence from France in a referendum boycotted by the independence camp.
Unofficial results show that in the third and last referendum under the Noumea Agreement of 1998, more than 96 percent voted against independence.
The turnout was just under 44 percent after over 85 percent in the previous year.
Independence parties had urged their supporters not to vote after France refused to postpone the referendum because of the impact of the pandemic on the Kanak indigenous people.
The usual Kanak Senate had declared Sunday a day of mourning for the 280 people who died in the pandemic.
The French high commission said the vote was peaceful and there were no incidents.
All municipalities voted against independence, including those in which more than 90 percent voted for independence last year.
On Belep, the turnout was 0.6 percent, while on Lifou, which is also mainly Kanak Island, some polling stations did not have a single voter.
Anti-independence leaders welcomed the result.
Philippe Michel, a member of Congress since 1999, said the voters’ verdict was final.
Gil Brial, chairman of the MPC, said the victory was not only legal but also political because it was the independence parties that called for the third referendum.
Nina Julie of Generations NC said the win means New Caledonians keep their French passports.
Before the vote, the independence parties said they would not recognize the result and ruled out any future status negotiations ahead of the French presidential elections next April.
They also ruled out a meeting with French overseas minister Sebastien Lecornu, who had arrived in Noumea over the weekend for post-referendum negotiations.
The decolonization mechanism, which has been in play since 1988 with two main treaties, has now reached its formal end without the colonized population being fully involved at the center of the process.
The long way to the third referendum
New Caledonia has been on the United Nations’ decolonization list since 1986.
Independence parties said ahead of the referendum that if they voted against for a third time, they would seek direct bilateral talks with Paris on the decolonization of the territory.
The December date for the referendum was chosen by Lecornu in June after rejecting calls from independence parties to hold it in late 2022.
His position reflected the consensus that the referendum date should in no way overlap with the campaign period for the French presidential and parliamentary elections next year.
In the two previous referendums under the Noumea Agreement, the proportion of votes against fell from 56.7 percent in 2018 to 53.3 percent in 2020.
After the referendum in 2018, then French Prime Minister Edouard Philippe expressed satisfaction that everyone agreed on the indisputability of the result of this referendum.
With the overwhelming no, this year’s referendum decision puts France back under the obligation to find a new way of doing justice to the Kanaks’ right to self-determination.
French President Emmanuel Macron hailed the result, saying France was prettier because New Caledonia had decided to remain a part of it.
He said that with the end of the Noumea Agreement, the territory would be free from the binary choice between yes and no.
Macron said that a new joint project must now be built in which the dignity of all must be recognized and respected.