New Caledonia to Vote on Independence a Third Time

In December 2021, New Caledonia will hold its third vote to determine if the territory will gain its independence from France. There have been two referendums on the matter since 2018, the results of both indicating that a majority supports New Caledonia remaining a French territory.

New Caledonia Flag
The flag of New Caledonia.

New Caledonia is a collection of islands located 750 mi east of Australia. Its population of nearly 290,000 is made up of the native Kanak people, Europeans, Polynesians, and people from Southeast Asia. The islands were visited by English, French, and American explorers in the 1700s, and in the mid-1800s, that contact increased, largely due to interest in the sandalwood grown in the region.

New Caledonia has experienced a turbulent history, including a period in which native people were taken from the islands and forced into labor in plantation agriculture and mines. In 1853, France formally took possession of the territory and used it as a penal colony. The Kanaks were confined to reserves and excluded from most of the island’s economy. This treatment led to numerous violent revolts, the first occurring in 1878. Through the 1980s, violent conflicts between native Kanaks and French forces continued. With the goal of ending the violence, a plan was set in motion to hold a number of officially prescribed referendums on independence.

Saint Josef Cathedral and Moselle Bay in Noumea, New Caledonia

The 1998 Noumea Accord determined that up to three referendums by 2022 would be allowed. The first one was held in 2018. New Caledonians voted to remain a territory of France, but by a slim margin—almost 44% of the citizens voted for independence. The second vote, in 2020, was a similarly close call but was again won by pro-Paris supporters.

Currently, New Caledonia enjoys considerable autonomy and has a mutually beneficial relationship with France. With a GDP of nearly $10 billion, New Caledonia is one of the most important economies in the South Pacific, and the French government has a vested interest in retaining the territory. New Caledonia benefits greatly from French financial support—a direct infusion of French capital accounts for over 15% of the territory’s GDP.

With the third vote on independence about to happen, New Caledonia's pro-independence party has called for "non-participation" in the referendum, proposing that the vote be postponed until 2022 because of the Covid-19 epidemic.

If the vote takes place as scheduled and voters opt for independence, it will be the first of France’s territories to separate in almost 40 years. At Seterra, we're closely watching New Caledonia's vote on independence and are ready to update all affected map quizzes.