The turnout would have been very high in the second of three possible independence referendums, at around 80% of
180,000 New Caledonians have the right to vote.
By refusing independence, the territory of 273,000 inhabitants will retain generous subsidies from France, which provides $ 1.5 billion in financial support annually.
French President Emmanuel Macron, in a speech at the Elysee Palace, greeted the result with a “deep feeling of gratitude”.
It was the second time that New Caledonia organized such a referendum. Two years ago, nearly 57% of voters also rejected independence. A third referendum may be possible in 2022 if a third of the local assembly votes in favor.
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 the 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 would have meant decolonization, emancipation, the reduction of inequalities and their right to decide the future of the islands, including the realignment of their political and cultural allegiances to the broader 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 the good public services in the archipelago, are largely due to French subsidies.