January 26, 2022

massive abstention confirms the divisions that cross the archipelago

The storm after the calm. Monday, December 13, New Caledonia is on precyclonic alert as the tropical depression Ruby approaches, which should turn into a cyclone and affect the territory overnight from Monday to Tuesday. The day after the consultation of December 12 on the territory’s accession to full sovereignty, the Caledonian population is much more worried about the damage it risks causing than by the consequences of the no, which has emerged victorious for a third time. of the ballot.

The victory of the no is broad, very broad, too broad, some will say, regretting that this last binary referendum within the framework of the Nouméa agreement of May 5, 1998 was truncated after the call for non-participation decided by the independence leaders. At the question “Do you want New Caledonia to gain full sovereignty and become independent? “, the answer was no for 96.5% of the votes cast, against 3.5% for the yes. But, unlike the two previous consultations, in which Caledonian voters registered on the special list had participated in large numbers, the abstention this time amounted to 56.13%, against 18.99% in 2018 and 14.31 % in 2020.

The result is no less there. This third referendum was intended to close the process initiated by the Noumea agreement. It now remains to invent a new path, a new social project, a new institutional status, to keep the promise of a common destiny. But, as Emmanuel Macron said in a televised address on Sunday, “New Caledonia will therefore remain French”, even if the constitutional right to self-determination remains guaranteed.

“Respect and humility”

Using the words of Kanak custom, the Head of State welcomed this result “With respect and humility”. Respect, because the commitments made have been kept, because this unprecedented process, unparalleled in the world, has come to an end and, on three occasions, the voters have been able to express their choice. Humility, because each ballot, although it was held under different conditions due to the non-participation of part of the electorate, showed how much Caledonian society remains deeply divided. “Humility, finally, in front of the scale of the task which is ours”, acknowledged Mr. Macron.

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What lessons can be learned from this third referendum? First, it confirms the geographic, sociological and identity divide that was expressed during the first two consultations. It is, in a way, the mirror of the first two, through participation and non-participation. We must take the three referendums as a whole. Where the yes was largely imposed during the first two consultations, the instruction not to vote was widely followed: in the southern province, 29.1% of yes in 2020, 39.4% of abstention on December 12 ; in the North province, respectively 78.3% and 83.2%; in the Loyalty Islands, 84.2% and 95.4%.

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