new caledonia

The Pacific territory of New Caledonia has rejected independence from France in a referendum.

With over a third of the votes counted, New Caledonians have voted no to separation by 58 percent.

Turnout was reported to be exceptionally high, with some polling stations staying open earlier than planned to give everyone a chance to vote.

The referendum follows instability in the territory over the 1970s and 1980s among the pro-independence indigenous Kanak community, who make up around 40 percent of the population.

Pro-separatist groups are hoping that they can win a future referendum on the issue, due to be held in 2020, as part of a peace agreement between France and the Kanak and Socialist National Liberation Front.

A previous referendum on independence in 1987 saw the territory vote overwhelmingly against independence, with 98 percent voting no. However, the vote saw a boycott by pro-independence groups amid continuing tension with France.

France annexed New Caledonia in 1853 and it became a penal colony for 33 years from 1864. The indigenous Kanak population were excluded from aspects of the French economy and confined to reservations. Kanaks, frustrated at their poverty at the hands of French ‘exploitation’ began supporting an independence movement, which resulted in disorder and violence.

Although its GDP per capita is high and is a producer of nickel, New Caledonia suffers from severe inequality, with claims that mining revenue is spent and invested outside of the territory.