6 Mar 2006

New Caledonian voter eligibility issue to be discussed by French government shortly

11:33 am on 6 March 2006

The French minister in charge of overseas territories, Francois Baroin, says within a month the government will discuss a proposed constitutional change to accommodate the 1998 Noumea Accord on New Caledonia's autonomy.

At issue is a clause to impose residency requirements for those eligible to vote in New Caledonia amid concern that Kanaks could be outnumbered by migrants from France.

The anti-independence party, the Rassemblement-UMP, wants any French citizen to be given voting rights after 10 years in New Caledonia.

But the Kanaks say the Noumea accord restricts voting for provincial elections to those who were on the 1998 roll.

The matter has seen a challenge in the constitutional court, prompting President Jacques Chirac to promise in 2003 that a solution to the dispute would be found by the time his term ends next year.

Mr Baroin has told New Caledonian lawmakers that the proposed change will see a freeze of the electorate - an announcement welcomed by the Kanaks but rejected by the local head of the Rassemblement which says they'll fight the clause until the end.