New Caledonia sees surge in pro-independence vote in French election
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New Caledonia sees surge in pro-independence vote in French election

Citizens of the Pacific colony of New Caledonia turned out in droves to the polls on July 7 to vote in the second round of elections for the French National Assembly. Voting in the territory’s two constituencies took place under tight surveillance after nearly eight weeks of violent riots and unrest.

New Caledonia sees surge in pro-independence vote in French election
Demonstrators hold Kanak and Socialist National Liberation Front (FLNKS) flags in Paris, Thursday, May 16, 2024. (AP Photo/Thomas Padilla)

The snap election was a disaster for President Emmanuel Macron, whose Ensemble coalition came second behind Jean-Luc Mélenchon’s New Popular Front (NFP). Voters mobilised against both Macron, the “president of the rich”, and the far-right National Rally (RN), reflecting broad leftist sentiment and a rejection of neo-fascism among workers and young people.

In New Caledonia, the election saw a surge in support for pro-independence candidates, against Macron’s move to push through the French parliament a change to the territory’s local election eligibility rules, which the Kanak independence movement says will further marginalize indigenous votes.

The poll came amid a brutal police-military crackdown in which a 3,700-strong French occupation force was deployed to quell political unrest. Five independence leaders who were arrested on June 22 and deported to prisons on mainland France will remain there pending trial, a court in Noumea ruled Friday.

In the National Assembly, Emmanuel Tjibaou won the predominantly indigenous Kanak Northern constituency, while Omayra Naisseline lost in the constituency that includes Noumea and the Loyalty Islands. Tjibaou became only the second pro-independence Kanak, and the first since 1986, to enter the National Assembly.

Tjibaou, of the Union Calédonienne (UC), soundly defeated Alcide Ponga, president of the anti-independence, right-wing Rassemblement-LR, by 57.01 percent to 42.99 percent. The high turnout ensured overwhelming support for Tjibaou in the main island’s independence strongholds of Thio, Pouebo and Poum. Ponga won the conservative rural towns, but by a much smaller margin.

In the second constituency, incumbent MP Nicolas Metzdorf (Loyalistes-Rassemblement) retained his seat with 52.41 percent of the vote. However, the result was more even, as Naisseline received 47.59 percent. While Metzdorf’s support came mainly from the wealthy areas around Noumea, Naisseline won in the Loyalty Islands, her home.