Election Preview: New Caledonia 2009

Warning: Extremely long and detailed post. I always write too much on New Caledonia.

New Caledonia will hold provincial elections on May 10. Ethnically, New Caledonia is around 44% Melanesian (Kanak), 34% white European (often known as Caldoches, descendants of convicts or free settlers from Alsace, Nord, but also Brits from Australia, Germans, Italians, and Belgians), 9% from Wallis-et-Futuna who came in the ’60’s and ’70’s to work in the nickel mines, 3% Tahitians, 1% from Vanuatu and also an Asian community from Vietnam and Indonesia. Note that Wallisians and Tahitians are Polynesians, and not Melanesians. The two don’t like each other a whole lot.

New Caledonian politics are based quasi-entirely around a marked dichotomy between full independence and staying within France (as an autonomous territory).

There was some awful violence in the ’80’s between loyalists and nationalists, which culminated in the Matignon Accords and later the Noumea Accords (1998), which ended up giving extensive powers to the local government and guarantees for the Kanaks. The Noumea Accord plans a referendum on independence between 2014 and 2018.

New Caledonia’s reponsible legislature is the Territorial Congress, made up of 54 members. The Congress itself is made up of representatives from each provincial (Sud, Nord, and Iles de la Loyauté) assembly. The Sud holds 71% of the population. The provincial assemblies are elected every 5 years by 5% PR. New Caledonia is governed by a collegial leadership, led by a President. After each election (or resignation of a President/government etc), there is an election in Congress to form the government. Parties run lists, which receive the votes of their members. The winning list gets the President, and the cabinet positions (today there are 11) are given out proportionally based on the results of each party’s list. So, the government is effectively a permanent Grand Coalition.

The anti-independence side, or loyalists, are almost entirely identified with the metropolitan right (RPR, UDF, UMP). Jacques Lafleur, a Caldoche, is the main figure of the loyalist movement. In 1977, which saw the start of an outright nationalist movement on the left, Lafleur founded the Rally for Caledonia (RPC) which became the Rally for Caledonia in the Republic (RPCR) in 1978 following its affiliation with the RPR. The RPCR was originally a big tent for a large majority of loyalists, whether they were liberals or Chiraquistes (like Lafleur, in the mold of Michaux-Chevry in Guadeloupe and Flosse in Polynesia). However, the first cracks in the RPCR appeared in 1995, when Lafleur broke his historical friendship with Chirac to endorse Balladur in the presidential election. Didier Leroux, the strongman of the local managerial trade union and a Chiraquiste, left the RPCR to found a party with the awfully tin-pot name of Une Nouvelle-Calédonie pour tous (UNCT, A New Caledonia for All). However, the RPCR remained, by far, the largest loyalist party in the 1994 and 1999 elections. It became the Rassemblement-UMP after the RPR became the UMP, but kept the RPCR acronym.

However, the RPCR started massively cracking ahead of the 2004 elections. In 2004, a group of RPCR dissidents who opposed Lafleur’s authoritarian leadership. Among these is Marie-Noëlle Thémereau, who left the RPCR in 2001 and supported Jospin in 2002 (fail); Harold Martin, once Lafleur’s dauphin but excluded in 2003 for running a dissident list in the 2001 locals; and Philippe Gomès, a friend of Martin. These dissidents formed a party called “Future Together” with the UNCT (or Alliance), which had become closer Bayrou’s New UDF but still UMP. Among the Alliance members is Didier Leroux, by now Bayrou’s representative on the island; Sonia Lagarde, a Chiraquiste; and Jean-Pierre Aïfa, a non-nat autonomist. There was also a lone right-wing nat, Christiane Gambey. In the 2004 election, Avenir ensemble shocked observers by winning as many seats as the RPCR. However, since New Caledonia is French and French centrism is so divided, Avenir ensemble split in 2008. This split started in the 2007 legislative election, when Gomès (President of Province Sud) ran in the 1st constituency (Lafleur’s stronghold) while Didier Leroux was supposed to run. Both ran in the end, and both polled 14%, but got third and fourth leaving the RPCR Gaël Yanno (yay, a Gaël!) against a nat, which Gaël ate alive in the runoff. Martin was also defeated running the 2nd constituency. Poor results in last year’s local elections precipitated an open split between Gomès and Martin-Leroux. In 2008, Gomès and 12 Avenir ensemble (including Thémereau) formed Caledonia Together. However, a smaller Avenir ensemble still includes Harold Martin (President of the Government) and most members.

Back to the RPCR. In 2005, Lafleur announced his intentions to step down in favour of Pierre Frogier, a Sarkozyste and his chosen successor. However, he came back on this decision and ran against Frogier for the RPCR leadership at the party congress. Frogier ate Lafleur alive, and Lafleur left the RPCR to form the Rally for Caledonia (RPC), which included New Caledonia’s lone Senator, an anti-independence Kanak Simon Loueckhote. However, in 2008  Loueckhote founded the Movement for Diversity (LMD).

The metropolitan National Front, contrarily to other overseas region, is relatively strong in New Caledonia, taking the most radical Caldoche votes. In fact, the FN openly opposed the Matignon Accords in 1988. In 2008, a number of local FN members founded the French Caledonian Movement (MCF), which joined the Martin-Leroux AE to form a parliamentary group. There also exists a small section of the MPF.


The idea of independence was born on the far-left in the ’60’s and develped in the ’70’s by Jean-Marie Tjibaou. New Caledonian independence, or Kanak nationalism, is almost entirely left-wing (Melanesian socialism) and close to the PS in France. The main nationalist movement is Tjibaou’s Kanak and Socialist National Liberation Front (FLNKS), itself an alliance of various nationalist parties of varying rhetoric and size. The two big factions are the Caledonian Union and PALIKA. The Caledonian Union was born as an autonomist cross-community autonomist party, led by Maurice Lenormand (longtime representative in Paris, affiliated with the French centre [MRP-CD-CDS] in France). However, the UC grew opposed to the arrival of Gaullist centralism in France, which undid most of the autonomist reforms of the Fourth Republic (the Defferre laws). The UC grew more and more radical, and started flirting with independence. This flirtation led to an outflow of Caldoches into new loyalist parties. This combined with Lenormand’s problems with the judiciary weakened the party considerably. In 1977 in Bourail, the UC adopted a nationalist platform, supported by Jean-Marie Tjibaou (and the rare European nationalists, such as Lenormand and Pierre Declercq). In 1979, the UC joined with Palika and other parties to form the Nationalist Front, which became the FLNKS in 1984. The UC was the largest faction in the FLNKS, led by Tjibaou. It was largely moderate, telling every to chill out and sit down. Tjibaou was killed in 1989 by some kooky Kanak nat. Rock Wamytan, the moderate leader lost in 2001 to Pascal Naouna, a radical. It has broken with Palika within the FLNKS, which has no unitary president and awfully divided. In addition, the UC has shifted to become the most radical, favouring a strict application of the Noumea Accords, no talks with the loyalists, but in favour of sovereignty-association similar to the Marshall Island’s status. The second big faction is the Party of Kanak Liberation or Palika. Palika  started on the radical left, with Marxist rhetoric, in the ’70’s. It participated, like the UC, in the Nationalist Front and later the FLNKS as the smaller, but more radical element. After Matignon, the division between Palika and UC heightened, and in 1995 Paul Néaoutyine led a dissident list (National Union for Independence, UNI) from the FLNKS (UC-Palika) united list in the Nord. In 1999, the Palika and UC ran separate lists in all provinces. At the same time, the Palika became more moderate, favouring talks with loyalists but still having as a final goal full independence. The term UNI has now been changed to include a broad coalition of Palika and smaller parties close to it, including Melanesian Progressive Union (UPM), which started as a LCR-like Trot party but more moderate today, the Oceanian Democratic Rally (RDO), the pro-independence wing of the Oceanian Union (UO) which seeks to represents Wallisians, and the UC Renouveau, a UC dissident party in the Loyalty Islands. Recently, the divide between the UNI-Palika and UC has narrowed down, and both parties agreed on a deal in the 2007 legislative elections: Palika ran a candidate with a UC suppleant in the 1st constituency and UC ran a candidate with a Palika suppleant in the 2nd. Both lost.

Other nationalist parties outside of the FLNKS include the Kanak Socialist Liberation (LKS) which started out Marxist but is now very moderate, having refused the FLNKS’ ’80’s strategy of boycotts and protests in favour of perpetual negotiation between both parties. LKS sometimes works with the FCCI, or Union of Pro-Independence Co-operation Committees, the most moderate wing of the nat movement. It was founded in 1998 by FLNKS members who refused the FLNKS’ conditions for sitting down with the RPCR (the FLNKS wanted a private nickel mining company in the Nord to sell off its stuff to a government-led mining firm). The FCCI ran with the LKS and RPCR in the Loyalty Islands in the 1999 election and the FCCI sat with the RPCR in a parliamentary group in Congress. The FCCI is now considerably weaker, with its sole Congressman having left the party in 2005. Lastly in 2007, the USTKE trade union, very radical and anti-globalization founded its own outfit, the Labour Party (PT). The PT is close to José Bové and is to the left of the FLNKS. It is classified as altermondaliste.

The 2004 election results:

Congress (average of all 3 provinces)

RPCR 24.43% winning 16 seats (-8)
Avenir ensemble 22.69% winning 16 seats (+13)
UNI-FLNKS 16.36% winning 8 seats (nc)
UC 11.86% winning 7 seats (-3)
FN 7.46% winning 4 seats (nc)
FCCI 3.2% winning 1 seat (-3)
LKS 2.87% winning 1 seat (nc)
UC Renewal 1.77% winning 1 seat (+1)


Caledonia, my country 2.13%
Other nats 3.9%
Other loyalists 3.32%
Loyalists 57.91% winning 36 seats (+5)
Nationalists 39.96% winning 18 seats (-5)

Sud Province

Avenir ensemble 33.89% winning 19 seats (+15)
RPCR 31.19% winning 16 seats (-9)
FN 11.19% winning 5 seats (nc)
UNI-FLNKS 4.62% winning 0 seats (-2)
UC Renewal 3.83% winning 0 seats (-1)
UC 3.37% winning 0 seats (-3)
Loyalists 81.69% winning 40 seats (+6)
Nationalists 16.11% winning 0 seats (-6)

The nationalists lost purely since they ran extremely divided in their weakest province.

Nord Province

UNI-FLNKS 37.51% winning 11 seats (+3)
UC 27.12% winning 7 seats (+1)
RPCR 11.43% winning 3 seats (-1)
Avenir ensemble 8.53% winning 1 seats (+1)
FCCI 5.75% winning 0 seats (-4)
Nationalists 73.97% winning 18 seats (nc)
Loyalists 22.61% winning 4 seats (nc)

Iles Province

UNI-FLNKS 16.3% winning 2 seats (nc)
UC 22.54% winning 4 seats (-2)
RPCR 17.19% winning 2 seats (nc)
LKS 15.66% winning 2 seats (nc)
UC Renewal 11.18% winning 2 seats (+2)
FCCI 8.85% winning 2 seats (nc)
Nationalists 82.81% winning 12 seats (nc)
Loyalists 17.19% winning 2 seats (nc)

Congressional delegations.

Sud: AE 15, RPCR 13, FN 4
Nord: UNI 7, UC 5, RPCR 2, AE 1
Iles: UC 2, RPCR 1, UNI 1, LKS 1, FCCI 1, UC Renewal 1

I made a map of ethnicity using ISEE-INSEE data. I’ll make more maps if I find interesting demographic data.

Ethnicity is a very important divide in politics (sadly, no data for the 2007 or 2004 elections by commune. Gah. Bad. Fail). Do note that Polynesians are, on the whole, mostly loyalist, with some exceptions. Kanaks are strongly nationalist and Caldoches are strongly loyalist. But there’s an exception to every rule.

Last notes. The two constituencies in New Caledonia are a bit gerrymandered. The 1st one includes Noumea and the Loyalty Islands, but European Noumea outnumbers the islands so badly. The 2nd includes the Noumea suburbs, quite white. These suburbs outnumber the other parts, that is the “brousse”, mainly nationalist. The 2nd is much narrower. But neither has elected a nationalist deputy since they were created.

I calculated the 2007 results for all New Caledonia and they say 32.71% UMP, 25.44% for all AE-CE combined, 5.34% FN, 1.44% DVD (UMP dissident in 1st only), 5.87% for Lafleur-RPC (in 1st only), 23.08% for UC+UNI combined (Palika in 1, UC in 2), 5.83% for USTKE-PT candidates in both seats.

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Posted on May 10, 2009, in DOM-TOM, Election Preview, France, New Caledonia. Bookmark the permalink. Leave a comment.

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