Colonial past haunts latest New Caledonia crisis

Protests against a French government plan to impose new voting rules on New Caledonia have spiralled into the deadliest violence on the French Pacific territory since the 1980s. The unrest has exposed divisions between indigenous inhabitants, descendants of colonisers and newcomers to the overseas archipelago.

Deadly riots erupted in Nouméa, capital of New Caledonia, a French Pacific island territory, on Monday before a vote in the National Assembly, the French lower house of parliament, on a proposed electoral reform.

Under the terms of the 1998 Nouméa Accord, only New Caledonia natives and long-term residents have been eligible to vote in provincial elections and local referendums, to preserve the balance between the indigenous Kanak population and new arrivals from mainland France.

Tensions have simmered for decades between the Kanaks seeking independence and descendants of colonisers who want it to remain part of France.

The reforms are aimed at enlarging the electorate for New Caledonia’s provincial elections, a move decried by the pro-independence movement.

Provincial elections are due before December 2024 to choose the elected representatives of the three provincial assemblies.

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