The choice of independence would lead to a complete devolution of powers over the territory of 273,000 inhabitants and to the end of the generous subsidies from France, which provides annual financial support of $ 1.5 billion.
More than 180,000 people have registered to vote in the ballot, in which they will be asked the question: “Do you want New Caledonia to acquire full sovereignty and become independent?”
The United Nations and the Pacific Islands Regional Forum are watching the vote in the archipelago, 1,200 km (750 miles) east of Australia and 1,350 km (840 miles) west of Australia. Fiji.
The campaign was fierce in the run-up to the referendum given the narrow margin seen in the 2018 poll. At the time, No-camp won by 18,000 votes, a much narrower margin than expected.
“We have seen a lot of gatherings, meetings, and this year a spectacle of colors: blue, white and red for the [Loyalists] and red, yellow and green for Independents, well over two years ago, ”said Catherine Ris, professor of economics at the University of New Caledonia in the territory’s capital, Nouméa.
“From the political leadership side, we are seeing more aggressive positions and rhetoric,” she told Al Jazeera, adding that politicians have stepped up their efforts to mobilize younger and indigenous voters living in the outer islands who may not have voted in the last referendum.
This time around 6,000 more people are eligible to vote.
“Because the result [in 2018] was much closer than in the polls, this time everyone will vote, ”said Ris, predicting a much higher turnout than the 81% seen two years ago.
Both sides of the political divide have forged broader coalitions to strengthen their influence this year. “The Loyalists” or the Loyalists are made up of half a dozen staunch anti-independence parties, while the two separatist parties, including the Labor Party, have formed the Nationalist Movement for the Sovereignty of Kanaky or the Nationalist Movement for sovereignty of Kanaky.
New Caledonia was colonized by France in the mid-19th century and was granted greater autonomy and the right to hold up to three referendums on its political status under the Noumea Accord, signed between the leaders French and local in 1998.
The deal followed a 1988 peace accord that ended decades of conflict between the indigenous Kanak people and the descendants of European settlers known as | Caldoches ”. Despite the promise of the Noumea Accord of a “common destiny” for all citizens, the Kanaks, who make up about 39 percent of the population, still experience higher levels of unemployment and poverty, as well as poor results. lower in higher education.
In the 2018 referendum, the vast majority of those who voted for independence were Kanaks, while those who supported maintaining ties with France were either of European descent or other non-Indigenous minority groups.
For independence activists, full sovereignty is about decolonization, emancipation, reduction of inequalities and their right to decide the future of the islands, including the realignment of their political and cultural allegiances to the wider community of states of the Pacific Islands.
Loyalists, however, say they are proud of their French heritage and say their high standard of living, as well as good public services on the archipelago, are largely due to French subsidies.
French President Emmanuel Macron, for his part, underlined the role that the European power can play in countering the growing geopolitical and economic influence of China in the Pacific region.
Additional reporting by Catharine Ris in Canberra, Australia.