A referendum on whether New Caledonia should become independent or remain part of the French Republic was held for the third time in three years on Sunday, December 12th, 2021.
The weekend concluded with a resounding “no.” The result of the vote was unprecedented: 96.5% of the votes cast were in favor of remaining as a French territory, rejecting independence. Even in the strongholds of independence voters, the “no” vote exceeded 60%. The pro-independence vote only received 2,755 ballots. President Emmanuel Macron offered congratulations and commended the island on voting to remain in the French fold, greeting them with these words: “France is more beautiful because New Caledonia has decided to stay.”
Yet the troubles are far from over. The two previous referendums in 2018 and 2020 were characterized by a very high turnout: 81.01% in 2018 and 85.69% in 2020. This time, on the contrary, the abstention was drastic. Only 43.9% of registered voters participated in the referendum. Independentists massively boycotted the vote, and a number of Caledonians, even loyalists, did not turn out. They may have been tired of these repeated votes or felt that the result was already known in advance. Report of pressure and intimidation from independentists, who hammered the slogan “we don’t vote!” may be a sign of civic turmoil to come.
The 3rd referendum was supposed to end the process of the Noumea Accords and turn the page on the possibility of independence for New Caledonia. Instead it leaves a bitter taste, one that will be exploited by the pro-independence residents who will explain that this vote is illegitimate and non-representative. This will feed the arguments they intend to put forward to the United Nations. In any case, they have announced that they do not want to start discussions with the President of the French Republic before the presidential elections in April.