(A translation of a Le Monde editorial that appeared on May 10, 2004)
Sixteen years after the signing of the Matignon Accords, the regional elections of May 9th have finalized the radical political divisions in New Caledonia. One could speak of a political landscape completely in flux in this South Pacific archipelago that is undergoing increasing political autonomy, which will climax in a referendum on self-rule between 2014 and 2019.
In addition to the divisions among the former lieutenants of Jean-Marie Djibaou (the historical leader of the independence movement) which were already evident during the previous elections in 1999, there is now a rupture in the so-called “loyalist” camp. Close to Jacques Chirac, Jacques Lafleur—the president of the Rassemblement pour la Calédonie dans la République (now called Rassemblement-UMP)—lost a majority in the southern province which is the most populous and the richest of the “Pebble.”** The Rassemblement-UMP will not be able to continue to head the Congress and the regional government unless it forms compromising alliances or unless there is further turn-over.
For more than ten years, the middle and upper classes originally from Europe have challenged the omnipotent Mr. Lafleur. Successive government administrations—from the Left as well as the Right—pretended not to notice and only recognized as worthy interlocutors the signatories of the Matignon Accords: Mr. Lafleur’s party on one hand and the Front de libération nationale kanak socialiste (FLNKS) on the other hand. This behavior on the part of the administrations ignored that the landscape had changed.
An increasing number of those liberal and modern individuals who support keeping New Caledonia within France are growing tired of Mr. Lafleur’s authoritarianism, paternalism and his omnipresence in economic circles. Moreover, those who support independence today are not the same as those who supported independence in the 1980’s. Although independence remains an objective, it seems increasingly mythical. The exercise of power, in the north and on the Loyauté islands, has convinced the most lucid, New Caledonian leaders that much must be done in order to build the country. This exercise of power has, unfortunately, also corrupted several people close to Djibaou.
The failure of Mr. Lafleur—who did not want to run for office and only did so at the request of the French president—also represents a set-back for Jacques Chirac. Six weeks after the defeat of Lucette Michaux-Chevry in local elections in Guadeloupe, another pillar of Chirac’s over-seas policy is vacillating. The only one left is Gaston Flosse in Polynesia.
The May 9th election risks weakening the process of independence set in motion by the Left in New Caledonia. As an extension of the Matignon Accords, concluded under Michel Rocard, the Nouméa Accord that was signed on May 5, 1998 by Lionel Jospin envisioned a progressive autonomy, followed by a referendum on independence after 2014. Tens years remain to invent a new New Caledonia. This is not much time to create “a single people,” as the Union calédonienne—the oldest part of the FLNKS—once proclaimed.
**NOTE: New Caledonia is nicknamed “Le Caillou” or “the Pebble.”