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Figure 10: A Kanak voter wearing a ‘Kanaky New Caledonia’ flag tee shirt at the Loyalty Islands special polling booth in Vallee du Tir, Noumea. Image: David Robie

David Robie

Wednesday, July 17, 2019


The French-ruled territory of New Caledonia, or Kanaky, as Indigenous pro-independence campaigners call their cigar-shaped islands, voted on their political future on 4 November 2018 amid controversy and tension. This was an historic vote on independence in a ‘three-strikes’ scenario in the territory ruled by France since 1853, originally as a penal colony for convicts and political dissidents. In the end, the vote was remarkably close, reflecting the success of the pro-independence Kanak and Socialist National Liberation Front (FLNKS) in mobilising voters, particularly the youth. The referendum choice was simple and stark. Voters simply had to respond ‘yes’ or ‘no’ to the question: ‘Do you want New Caledonia to attain full sovereignty and become independent?’ In spite of prophecies of an overwhelming negative vote, the ‘no’ response slipped to a 56.4 percent vote while the ‘yes’ vote wrested a credible 43.6 percent share with a record turnout of almost 81 percent. New Caledonia is expected to face two further votes on the independence question in 2020 and 2022. The author of this article reported as a journalist on an uprising against French rule in the 1980s, known by the euphemism ‘les Évènements’ (‘the Events’). He returned there three decades later as an academic to bear witness to the vote and examine the role of digital media and youth. This article reflects on his impressions of the result, democracy and the future.


Report by Pacific Media Centre