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By Walter Zweifel, RNZ Pacific reporter

New Caledonia’s pro-independence parties are prepared to negotiate changes to the provincial electoral rolls, according to French Overseas Minister Gerald Darmanin.

On his second visit to Noumea in less than four months, the minister announced the apparent change in the stance of the pro-independence FLNKS movement, which until now has ruled out any willingness to open the roll.

As yet, there has been no official statement from the FLNKS (Kanak and Socialist National Liberation Front), which is still demanding comprehensive discussions with Paris on a timetable to restore the sovereignty lost in 1853.

It insists on a dialogue between the “coloniser and the colonised”.

The restricted roll is a key feature of the 1998 Noumea Accord, which was devised as the roadmap to the territory’s decolonisation after New Caledonia was reinscribed on the United Nations’ list of non-self-governing territories in 1986.

Under the terms of the accord, voters in the provincial elections must have been enrolled by 1998.

In 2007, the French constitution was changed accordingly, accommodating a push by the Kanaks to ensure the indigenous population was not at risk of being further marginalised by waves of migrants.

‘Enormous progress’
However, anti-independence parties have in recent years campaigned for an opening of the roll to the more than 40,000 people who have settled since 1998.

Darmanin hailed the FLNKS’ willingness to negotiate on the issue as “enormous progress”, saying the issue surrounding the rolls had been blocked for a long time.

He said after his meetings with local leaders the FLNKS considered 10 years’ residence as sufficient to get enrolled.

The minister said he had proposed seven years, while anti-independence politicians talked about three to five years.

In March, Darmanin said the next elections, which are due in 2024, would not go ahead with the old rolls.

President of the Congress of New Caledonia Roch Wamytan
President of the Congress of New Caledonia Roch Wamytan … the FLNKS have had discussions but “hadn’t given a definite approval”. Image: RNZ/Theo Rouby/AFP

However, a senior member of the pro-independence Caledonian Union, Roch Wamytan, who is President of the Territorial Assembly, said “they had started discussions but that they had not given a definite approval”.

For Wamytan, an agreement on the rolls was still far off.

Impact of the Noumea Accord
Darmanin tabled a report on the outcomes achieved by the Noumea Accord, whose objectives included forming a community with a common destiny following the unrest of the 1980s.

It found that “the objective of political rebalancing, through the accession of Kanaks to responsibilities, can be considered as achieved”.

However, the report concluded that the accord “paradoxically contributed to maintain the political divide that the common destiny was supposed to transcend”.

It noted that the three referendums on independence from France between 2018 and 2021 “confirmed the antagonisms and revealed the difficulty of bringing together a majority of qualified voters” around a common cause.

Darmanin also presented a report about the decolonisation process under the auspices of the United Nations.

It noted that “with the adoption of the first plan of actions aimed at the elimination of colonialism in 1991, the [French] state endeavoured to collaborate closely with the UN and the C24 in order to accompany in the greatest transparency the process of decolonisation of New Caledonia”.

It said that France hosted and accompanied two UN visits to New Caledonia before the referendums, facilitated the visit of UN electoral experts when electoral lists were prepared as well as at each of the three referendums between 2018 and 2021.

Kanaks reject legitimacy
From a technical point of view, the three votes provided under the Noumea Accord were valid.

However, the FLNKS refuses to recognise the result of the third referendum as the legitimate outcome of the decolonisation process after the indigenous Kanaks boycotted the vote and only a small fraction cast their ballots.

As French courts recognise the vote as constitutional despite the low turnout, the FLNKS has sought input from the International Court of Justice in a bid to have the outcome annulled.

The FLNKS still insists on having more bilateral talks with the French government on a timetable to restore the territory’s sovereignty.

Since the controversial 2021 referendum, the FLNKS has refused to engage in tripartite talks on a future statute, and Darmanin has again failed to get an assurance from the FLNKS that it would join anti-independence politicians for such talks.

Last month, Darmanin evoked at the UN the possibility of self-determination for New Caledonia being attained in about 50 years — a proposition being scoffed at by the pro-independence camp.

In Noumea, he said he was against a further vote with the option of “yes” or “no”, and rather wanted to work towards a vote on a new status.

This article is republished under a community partnership agreement with RNZ.

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