New Caledonia’s overwhelmingly pro-independence Kanak minority rejects a sovereign state in a second referendum on independence from France on Wednesday, according to the territory’s election agency.
Final results based on 90% of the ballots cast show 71.6% voted against independence, after a vote seen as crucial for ensuring New Caledonia’s continued ties with the former colony.
With six of the province’s nine provinces winning high, a high or even high referendum turnout, the vote – which was held under constitutional amendments – had already appeared assured.
The results illustrate how staunchly, and profoundly, the south-western Indian Ocean island of around 400,000 inhabitants voted in favour of uniting their sovereignty with the French mainland.
“It’s a democratic victory,” longtime New Caledonian leader Harold Martin told Reuters. “A people that has consistently chosen to be part of France will continue to be part of France.”
So far, supporters of a self-determination referendum have put forward an alternative proposal that proposes a semi-independent community on New Caledonia, sharing everything from its laws to its currencies with France.
The latest referendum marked the second chance New Caledonia has had since 1987 to vote on its future.
It originally voted “NO” in 1999, sparking tensions that prompted France to send troops to the archipelago. Two of the province’s nine provinces opted for self-determination in the second referendum.
An estimated 1,000 Kanaks have been jailed for peacefully protesting against the new referendum, despite the judges ruling it legal.
The French government has said its most recent opposition was fundamental to the only way to recover the territory. The vote, coupled with the 2016 creation of a native community in Papua New Guinea – a step strongly backed by Kanaks – has been denounced by conservative politicians as nothing more than a ploy by the Socialist government to placate the far left ahead of general elections in May.