A pro-independence mobilization against the constitutional reform on the expansion of the local electorate gave way to scenes of unprecedented violence in Nouméa, New Caledonia. What are the reasons for anger?

Scenes of violence and chaos. Violent clashes broke out in New Caledonia, more particularly in Nouméa and Greater Nouméa, on the night of Monday May 13 to Tuesday May 14 and after an already turbulent day. The toll of these chaotic hours is heavy: hundreds of cars burned, more than thirty companies and businesses burned as well as houses according to a group of employers’ representatives. Fortunately, the clashes did not result in any deaths according to the High Commissioner of the Republic of New Caledonia, but 54 gendarmes were injured and 82 people arrested according to the Interior Ministry’s count. The toll could have been more serious given “the tense shootings with large caliber weapons, large hunting rifles” which broke out during the night according to the High Commissioner of the Republic.

The situation is still tense this Tuesday in Nouméa and the mayor, Sonia Lagarde, says she fears a “kind of civil war” as reported by Nouvelle-Calédonie 1ère. The Caledonian government called for calm as measures were taken to prevent a repeat of the scenes of the day before. A curfew is in place from 6 p.m. this Tuesday until 6 a.m. tomorrow morning (i.e. from 9 a.m. this Tuesday, Paris time), gatherings on public roads are prohibited and several schools, boarding schools and businesses are closed. The authorities also deployed four mobile gendarmerie squadrons as well as all GIGN teams.

The altercations and the surge of violence broke out on the sidelines of a independence mobilization against the constitutional reform examined and voted on in the National Assembly this Tuesday, May 14. The text aims to expand the electorate of the archipelago, particularly for provincial elections, capital elections in New Caledonia, or referendums. The reform has already been adopted by the Senate – thanks to the votes of the presidential majority, the right and the extreme right – and must be adopted by the Assembly to be ratified, but this measure divides Caledonians. D On the one hand, the loyalists are in favor of the measure, while on the other hand, the separatists are firmly opposed to it. The supporters of an independent New Caledonia judge that with this reform the State is seeking to “minimize even more. Kanak indigenous people”, which is the majority and represents 40% of the population, but is tending to decline.

The conditions for having the right to vote in the aforementioned elections are strict and were fixed in 1998 to guarantee the Kanak people correct representation: you must therefore have New Caledonian nationality and have resided in New Caledonia between 1988 and 1998 or be the child of a parent who has been in this situation. The constitutional reform would open access to voting to people living for at least ten years in the archipelago.

The separatists are making their opposition to the constitutional reform heard, which they consider to be a “forceful move” by the State, in the words of the secretary general of the Caledonian Union (independence party), Dominique Fochi, to AFP. Some, like Kanak senator Robert Xowie, contacted by Le Monde, see this intervention to expand the electorate as a new form of French colonialism.

The anger of the separatists is exacerbated by the context in which New Caledonia has been evolving for several years with discussions on the independence of the archipelago. If the “no” to independence won after the three self-determination referendums, discussions are continuing on a new status to be granted to the territory. The fact remains that they are making little progress.

Although they oppose constitutional reform, the independence movements do not condone and condemn the violence observed in New Caledonia in recent hours. Pierre-Chanel Tutugoro, the president of the UC-FLNKS party in Congress calls on everyone to “take it easy” and let the dialogue continue and “avoid the street taking over” relays NC 1ère.

A position shared by Jean-Pierre Djaïwé, president of the National Union for Independence (UNI) party. The politician regrets this loss of control according to the local media: “From the moment the debate […]arrives in the street, it becomes complicated. Clear slogans are needed so that actions on the field, sometimes necessary, are sufficiently controlled and do not become nonsense.” He also denounces the lack of political awareness of certain demonstrators: “When we are dealing with people who are not politically aware, the action no longer aims to achieve a political result but ultimately to degrade things. That’s not what politics is all about.” Both therefore call for calm to continue the discussions which “are underway”.