20 May 2020

Push to defer New Caledonia's independence referendum

11:44 am on 20 May 2020

There are calls from New Caledonia's pro-independence leaders to defer the referendum, due on 6 September, because of the Covid-19 pandemic.

Kanak and French flags on Ouvea island.

Kanak and French flags on Ouvea island. Photo: AFP

They suggested the vote on independence from France should be deferred to late October.

Louis Mapou of the UNI faction in Congress said a delay was desirable because the municipal elections due in March were still to be completed.

Victor Tutugoro of the FLNKS said he also favoured a deferral as not to mix up the local election campaign with the debate on the referendum.

The pro-independence side planned to meet on Friday to discuss the situation.

A leading anti-independence politician, Sonia Backes said she was firmly opposed the calls for a delay, which she said she only found out about in a telephone call with the French prime minister Edouard Philippe.

Ms Backes, who is the president of the Southern Province, said a date was given and she wanted it to be kept, accusing the rival side of posturing to pressure the French state.

The 6 September date was confirmed last November.

The pro-independence side had wanted the vote to held as close as possible to the cut-off date of 4 November while the anti-independence camp wanted it brought forward to July.

In the previous referendum in 2018, just under 57 percent voted for the status quo.

Should voters again reject independence this year, another referendum can be called by New Caledonia's Congress within the following two years.

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