A legal challenge that sought to annul the result of last December’s referendum on New Caledonia’s independence from France has failed. Meanwhile, a fact-finding mission will travel to the French colony in the South Pacific later this month for talks on its institutional future.
The Kanak customary Senate launched an appeal against the result, saying that the impact of the Covid-19 pandemic rendered the outcome illegitimate.
In the third and final referendum held in December, more than 96 percent voted against independence from France, 3 percent said they were in favour of independence, but more than 56 percent of voters abstained.
Pro-independence parties, including indigenous Kanak representatives had called for a boycott of the referendum.
In the week before the referendum, 146 voters and three organisations filed an urgent submission to the same court, seeking to postpone the vote.
They said because of the Covid lockdown, campaigning had been disrupted.
However, last Friday, the highest administrative court in Paris rejected the appeal and upheld the result.
The court found that the epidemiological situation improved in October and November and that by the time of the referendum on 12 December, more than 77 percent of the population was vaccinated.
The pro-independence side said it would seek further support for its position from the Pacific Islands Forum and the United Nations.
Meanwhile, the French Senate has begun hearing experts this week on establishing a new statute for New Caledonia.
A special team made up of MPs will travel to the archipelago later this month to meet with stakeholders.
France's newly named minister for French overseas territories, Yaël Braun-Pivet, will oversee the delicate negotiation process between the sides in the coming months.
The government plans to hold a referendum next June on a new statute for a New Caledonia within the French republic.
The question of updating electoral rolls remains high on the agenda.
The Noumea accords restricts voting rights to indigenous people and long-term residents, creating tension between pro and anti independence groups.
Migration over the last century has added about 40,000 French citizens who are ineligible to vote in referendums and provincial elections.
The anti-independence parties want the rolls to be unfrozen, but the pro-independence side is strongly opposed to this.