On the fringe of southwest Pacific Ocean, over 16,700 km from Paris, lies a French territory comprising dozens of islands. Called the New Caledonia, the locals of this far-flung outpost follow a Gallic life and speak fluent French.However, it is being expected that the territory might not remain officially French for long.
On November 4, Sunday, the residents of New Caledonia will be voting on their future in an independence referendum, deciding whether or not they wish to become independent from France.
New Caledonia has been under the control of France since 1853, when it was colonised. Besides, this is not the first time it will be voting on independence.
A referendum on the question of independence was first held in 1987, when people overwhelmingly voted in favor of remaining with France— only 1.7 per cent (842 people) voted in favor of independence, while 98.3 percent stood against it. However, the participation from pro-independence groups was very low.
It is being anticipated that this time around 175,000 Caledonians are likely to cast their vote in the referendum.
Several people believe that New Caledonia has benefited from its colonial past. However, it is mainly for the capital, Nouméa. However, the pro-independence leaders believe that the Thio represents one of the hidden wounds of the territory that they are still trying to heal after a 30-year process of decolonisation.
A politician in Thio and a pro-independence activist, Odette Moindou said, “Thirty years is too short when we have lived 165 years under colonial rule. We haven’t had time to find our voice.”
The locals of mining town Thio are eagerly looking forward to vote on Sunday. Lying two hours east of Nouméa, it was once precious for the Pacific colonial project of France. In 1880, a state-run mining company, SLN began its operations there.
However, at present, the residents of Thio said that an economic gloom has fallen over their once powerful mining community. These residents, who are predominantly New Caledonia’s indigenous Kanaks, are expecting that the situation in their town will change, if the territory votes to cut ties with France.
“France has taken so much away, and our economic suffering remains,” Moindou said.
At a local rally for pro-independence activists, Aurélien Calixte said, “In Thio we have endured 165 years of exploitation. And we still live in misery.”
A few dozen people attended the rally, mainly including those who are there to listen to local leaders of the Kanak and Socialist National Liberation Front, or FLNKS.
Calixte said, “Look how we live today. If we were independent, we could receive the profits from the mine.”
This time the polls suggest that an overwhelming majority will vote against independence —between 69 per cent and 75 per cent. However, it also revealed that pro-independence strongholds in the north and on its satellite islands,will not be enough to flip the largely French-loyalist in the south.
Besides, if the vote fails this time, the territory may be allowed to hold two further referenda over the next four years.
Sunday will be a big day for New Caledonia and its people. The territory has received the opportunity after decades of protest. Will the pro-independence group win over the French-loyalist?