15 May 2019

New Wallisian party has kingmaker roll in New Caledonia

5:02 pm on 15 May 2019

A party formed in New Caledonia just two months ago has become the potential kingmaker after the weekend election of a new Congress.

The Pacific Awakening party, or L'Eveil Oceanien, which emanates from the migrant Polynesian community of Wallisians and Futunians, has secured three of the 54 seats.

The traditional anti-independence side has 25 seats and the pro-independence bloc 26, meaning both are just a couple of votes short of a majority.

The campaign message of Pacific Awakening was clear - it was time to take charge, it was time to stop being passengers and time for them to become their own captains of destiny.

New Caledonia Congress

Photo: RNZ Pacific/ Walter Zweifel

The post-election tally has placed the new party on the side of the anti-independence camp.

However, the new party says it stands for all people in New Caledonia, and above all it wants to tackle inequality.

On election night, its leader Milakulo Tukumuli restated his goals.

"I think, as I have said during my programme, it's mainly about social policy, for New Caledonians the gap between the richest and poorest needs to be closed; that's a priority," he said.

Nic Maclellan, who writes about New Caledonian affairs for Islands Business magazine, said the party touched on the material reality.

"There is incredible wealth here compared to neighbouring Pacific island countries but that wealth is very unequally divided. You only have to see Noumea which is a city of yachts and squats. People on French public service salaries live a very comfortable life and yet there is enormous poverty, and that's not only among the indigenous Kanak population but also among many islanders, Wallisians and Futunians and so on," he said.

Veylma Falaeo, who also secured a Congress seat, told in a campaign video that the aim is to tackle everyday concerns.

She said the monopolies, seen as one of the sources for the high cost of living, had to go.

"There has to be a proper statute for the self-employed because to run a business is to create value. The attribution of scholarships has to be fairer, and fight against por and insalubrious housing by cleaning up the slums," she said.

New Caledonia bakery

New Caledonia bakery Photo: RNZ Walter Zweifel

Many Wallisians and Futunians, who are all French citizens, arrived with the nickel boom from the 1960s onward.

For most of them New Caledonia is now home - the movement has been such that more Wallisians and Futunians now live in New Caledonia than back in their home islands.

Among them is the novice politician Milakula Tukumuli, the son of an immigrants from Futuna, who now runs his own company after obtaining a doctorate in mathematics in France.

Yet in the overarching political battle between the indigenous Kanaks and the anti-independence European populations, the Wallisians aspirations have always been those of a minority within the established structures.

Vaimua Muliava, who also won a Congress seat, put it like this:

"Unfortunately we have to admit that our political engagement has been a one-way street. That makes us question our place in New Caledonia's political landscape," he said.

Mr Tukumuli said on election night that he was in favour of the Noumea Accord running its course, which means he respects the wish of the FLNKS to use the option of a second or third referendum on independence from France.

However, he was foreshadowing that he wants change.

"We have to make our voices heard directly in the institutions of this country. Many of us are excluded from the restricted electoral roll. That was justified with the legitimate demands by the indigenous people. This has to be revisited at the dawn of a common destiny," he said.

Voting rights are restricted to a roll for the referendum and another roll for provincial elections which means that recent migrants can only vote in France-wide elections or local council elections.

Pacific Awakening (Eveil oceanien) supporters celebrate election success

Pacific Awakening (Eveil oceanien) supporters celebrate election success Photo: FB Eveil Oceanien

Nic Maclellan says the success of Pacific Awakening has stirred up the political landscape.

At the same time the more centrist anti-independence Caledonia Together party suffered severe setbacks, losing out to the Future with Confidence coalition which pushed the strongest pro-French message.

He says Pacific Awakening is being courted by all sides.

"We'll see which way they go in terms of the next few weeks. For me the really interesting thing is the Wallisians stood up and said 'our interests are not best represented necessarily by the conservative parties' and that changes the dynamics in significant ways," he said.

The first meeting of the new Congress will be next week when it will choose a Congress president.

All eyes will be on the three newcomers of Pacific Awakening to see which way they will lean.

Wallisian party formed in New Caledonian

Wallisian party formed in New Caledonian Photo: FB Eveil Oceanien

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