French magistrates to resolve New Caledonia electoral issues | Pacific Beat

French magistrates to resolve New Caledonia electoral issues

French magistrates to resolve New Caledonia electoral issues

Updated 28 February 2014, 10:10 AEDT

The French Government has sent a group of Magistrates to New Caledonia to check on allegations that thousands of people who should not be allowed to vote in upcoming congressional elections are on the electoral roll.

The Congress that takes shape in May will be able to decide whether or not New Caledonia moves towards independence.

The pro-independence FLNKS claims the discrepencies on the rolls amount to seven percent of the total vote.

Reporter: Sean Dorney

Speakers: Roch Wamytam, President of the New Caledonian Congress; Pidjot Roch, New Caledonian Youth Issues Advisor, Nico Bolo, Kanak youth

DORNEY: To the casual visitor the capital of New Caledonia, Noumea, may seem like a perpetual holiday resort - a bit of the French Riviera in the South Pacific.

Wind surfers make the most of the gusty breezes off the main beaches and everything looks extraordinarily relaxed. But there's political tension in this French possession 1500 kilometres north-east of Brisbane.

The pro-independence leader and President of the New Caledonian Congress, Roch Wamytam says he has questions for the French Government over why there are so many guns in the various ethnic communities.

WAMYTAM: [Translation] There are more than 100,000 guns that were sold during that three year period to now, noting that 2014 is just around the corner, the election is coming up. So the thinking is 'If things go bad that's OK, I have a gun!'

DORNEY: Mr Wamytam says when the independence struggle turned bloody in the 1980s the French Government imposed strict gun controls … but it eased those in 2009.

WAMYTAM: [Translation] Bearing in mind that 2014 is just around the corner, everyone armed themselves. And not only the European community here which we refer to as the Caldoche but also the Oceania community and even the Kanaks. So that is my question. Why would France do this?

DORNEY: The Congress elected in May will be able to vote on whether New Caledonia should have a referendum on independence - but three-fifths of those elected need to vote in favour.

The indigenous Melanesian Kanaks are the largest single ethnic community in New Caledonia but they are outnumbered by the Europeans, Polynesians from other French possessions in the Pacific and migrants from former French colonies. While the Kanak parties lead two of the provincial governments - in the north and the Loyalty Islands - in the south, where Noumea is, they are well and truly outnumbered. But there are some suburbs like Vallee du Tir where the indigenous Melanesians predominate.

On one wall in the commercial heart of that suburb there's a mural on a wall depicting four of the heroes of the independence struggle. Three of those four died violently - Chief Atai, who led an 1878 uprising against French settlement; Eloi Machoro, who was shot by French police in 1985; and the most famouts Kanak leader, Jean-Marie Tjibaou, who was assassinated in 1989. But Roch Wamytam has another concern beside guns.

The Noumea Accord which was signed by Jean-Marie Tjibaou provides that anybody who moved to New Caledonia after 1988 should not be able to vote in the May elections. They can vote in the French national elections and so there are two rolls - the Special Roll for those who can vote in the crucial elections this May and what is called the Annex Table for those who don't qualify because their residency has been too short. Roch Wamytam:

WAMYTAM: [Translation] Around 6,700 people are registered on the Special List of 2014 but they arrived after 1998 - thus they are not supposed to be on the Special Electoral List. I have spoken to the Government of France about this issue through the High Commissioner for France here in New Caledonia as well as with the United Nations Committee of 24 in October 2013. So what does this mean? In general it means that 5% of the whole Electoral Body.

DORNEY: Mr Wamytam also claims 2,000 young Kanak voters who should be on the list are instead on Annex Table list of those who can only vote in elections to the French Parliament. So both lists, he maintains, are wrong.

WAMYTAM: [Translation] And that represents 7% of the whole electoral body here in New Caledonia. It's just unimaginable to think that this is happening here in New Caledonia in a country that is administered by a French State that always gives us lectures about good governance and democracy.

DORNEY: At an FLNKS meeting at Mr Wamytam's village one of his advisers on youth issues, Pidjot Roch, took the complaint a step further.

PIDJOT ROCH: [Translation] What is pretty obvious is that there has been a lot of cheating and a lot of manipulation especially at the municipality level and some of the councils especially here in Noumea. And most of these younh Kanak have not been registered on the electoral rolls for the next election.

DORNEY: Politicians opposed to independence have made a counter claim that 4,000 Kanaks should be struck off the roll. And Paris has sent in Magistrates to try to resolve the issue. New Caledonia is going through a building boom and its nickel mines underpin the economy. This has given some of the Kanak youths, like Nico Bolo who describes himself as an FLNKS Active Militant, great faith in their future.

BOLO: [Translation] France at the moment is going through a crisis. There is a high unemployment rate, the economy is going down while if you look at New Caledonia it is a country that is booming. A lot of things are happening here and it's an opportunity for us and especially the youth to participate and build this country. We do not want these provincial divisions between south, north and the isles. We want to say, 'Yes, we can together! We can do it!'

DORNEY: After relaxing strict gun controls several years ago the French Government announced a tightening up late last year.

WAMYTAM: [Translation] And when they announced that there were no more guns in the shops. Everyone went to buy guns.

DORNEY: The elections in May will keenly contested because the outcome will determine New Caledonia's future.

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