Confrontations Continue Over Planned Voting Rules Change in New Caledonia

The Kanak people continue to live in significantly worse conditions than inhabitants of New Caledonia who originate from Europe.

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A man stands in front a burnt car after unrest in Noumea, New Caledonia, Wednesday May 15, 2024. (AP Photo/Nicolas Job)

Six people were killed last week in New Caledonia following widespread unrest triggered by changes to voting rules approved by French lawmakers. The changes would allow individuals who moved to the island after 1998 to vote in provincial elections.

The unrest has primarily involved Caledonian youth from working-class communities, who have erected barricades, blocked roads, and clashed with police in protest against the reform. In response, the French government has deployed over 1,000 additional armed forces to the island.

Local pro-independence groups, including the Kanak and Socialist National Liberation Front (FLNKS) and French left-wing factions, argue that the new voting rules are against the spirit of the Nouméa Accord, an agreement adopted in 1998 to support New Caledonia’s path towards self-determination. They emphasize that the rights of the indigenous Kanak population, which constitutes a bit more than 40 percent of the island’s residents, are at risk.

The Kanak people continue to live in significantly worse conditions than inhabitants of New Caledonia who originate from Europe. Poverty rates are significantly higher in Kanak communities, as are unemployment and imprisonment rates.

In light of the violence, political parties and movements in New Caledonia have called for de-escalation and renewed dialogue with France. Yet, they continue to criticize France’s handling of New Caledonia’s path to self-determination, particularly regarding the 2021 independence referendum held during the COVID-19 pandemic. The referendum saw a 96 percent vote in favor of remaining a French territory, but it was boycotted by pro-independence groups and remains contested.

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