The November 6 referendum result showed 56.7 percent voted to stay French, a much tighter outcome than predicted.
AFP Photo/Theo Rouby, file
Separatists seek majority as New Caledonia votes
(Agence France-Presse) - May 12, 2019 - 10:06am

NOUMEA, France — Voters in the French Pacific territory of New Caledonia were casting ballots for their local Congress Sunday, with separatists hoping to win a majority.

The ballot comes six months after a closer-than-expected referendum raised questions over France's grip on the strategic islands, which sit on a quarter of the world's known supplies of nickel, a vital electronics component. 

The November 6 referendum result showed 56.7 percent voted to stay French, a much tighter outcome than predicted.

Turnout at midday on Sunday was 31.42 percent—ten points lower than the referendum at the same time—the High Commission said.

However, it is higher than the 2014 provincial elections, which stood at 27.27 percent at the same point. 

Under a 1998 agreement, there can be two further votes on independence before 2022 in the archipelago located more than 1,000 kilometers northeast of Brisbane, Australia.

In the outgoing local Congress, pro-independence factions held 25 of the 54 seats.

Supporters of independence for the islands, fringed by stunning beaches, are mostly ethnic Kanaks who make up less than half the population of 269,000 people.

White residents—descendants of early European settlers as well as more recent arrivals—overwhelmingly want to stay French. They are joined by other Pacific minorities.

Last November's referendum was the culmination of the 1998 peace deal which followed a quasi-civil war between Kanaks and whites that left more than 70 dead in the 1980s.

The "Noumea deal" has also paved the way for the islands to become increasingly autonomous, with wide areas of policy under the control of local authorities. 

Almost 170,000 people are eligible to cast ballots on Sunday, with more than 900 candidates running.

There are 76 elected provincial representatives, 54 of whom will sit in the Congress.

Voting is restricted to the "population concerned" with the archipelago's political future and requires electors to have been resident at least since 1998.

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