Calls to boycott a final referendum for New Caledonian independence to ensure the French overseas collectivity can focus on fighting the Covid-19 pandemic has grown stronger this week.
A pro-independence movement is behind the push to scratch the vote on December 12 over cutting ties from its former coloniser.
But Paris is resisting to agree to the request to hold off until next year, according to the Kanak and Socialist National Liberation Front (FLNKS group), amid the 2022 France presidential elections, so the government can press ahead with the referendum to fulfill its obligations under the Noumea Accord.
It allowed for up to three independence votes by – not including – 2022 should at least one-third of the New Caledonia legislature request a consultative referendum.
The independence alliance of political parties that holds 20 of the 54 seats in the congress issued a statement a day after the group called on France’s minister for overseas territories, Sebastien Lecornu, to postpone the poll during his visit to the Pacific archipelago.
“The government should prioritise fighting the Covid pandemic in the territory, which has claimed 245 lives since September,” part of the statement read.
“Given the health crisis”, it also argued, “the referendum could not be held properly”.
Lecornu, during his time in Noumea, said the health situation was “tense” but under control, and only a situation in which the epidemic was “running riot” – which he claims it’s not – could justify postponing the referendum.
One anti-independence politician in New Caledonia backed Lecornu’s stance.
Caledonian Republicans leader Sonia Backes, who is the Southern Province president, has rejected any calls for the referendum to be delayed further.
In a letter to her political rivals that include the FKNKS group, Ms Backes said campaigning should continue while vaccinations are being ramped up and soon reach the 80 per cent mark.
New Caledonia has already twice rejected the proposal to gain independence from France, but it has fallen from 57 per cent against the move in 2018 to 53 per cent just 12 months ago.
The Noumea Accord that was created in 1998 ended conflict between the mostly pro-independence indigenous Kanak that represents around 40 per cent of the population and the one in every four residents of New Caledonia that are European descendants or immigrants.