French Senate endorses new election rules for New Caledonia, but with amendments

The French Senate on Tuesday endorsed a Constitutional review project bearing significant modifications to the local electoral rules for New Caledonia, but with amendments. The text passed with 233 votes in favour and 99 against.

It aims at modifying the conditions for French citizens to access a special list of voters for the elections in New Caledonia's three provinces and the Congress.

Since 2007 the electoral for those local elections was described as "frozen" to only allow persons residing in New Caledonia before 1998.

However, the French government and its Home Affairs and Overseas minister Gérald Darmanin introduced earlier this year a new text for a "sliding" electoral roll allowing citizens who had been residing in New Caledonia for an uninterrupted ten years to access the local roll.

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From the article:

The move has been strongly contested by pro-independence parties in New Caledonia, who fear the new rules (which would allow up to 25,000 voters to access the local suffrage) will threaten the French Pacific entity's political balances.

During heated debates last week and Tuesday for the vote, Senators sometimes traded vigorous words, with the left-wing parties (including Socialists and Communists) rallying in support of New Caledonia's pro-independence parties and accusing Darmanin of "forcing the text through".

New Caledonia's pro-independence umbrella, the FLNKS, last week officially demanded that the French government withdraw its Constitutional amendment project and that, instead, a high-level mediatory mission be sent to New Caledonia.

Parallel to the Parliamentary moves, New Caledonia's politicians, both pro and against independence, have been asked to sit together and engage in comprehensive talks in order to devise a new agreement that would replace the now-defunct Nouméa Accord, signed in 1998.

One of the Accord's prescriptions was that three consecutive referendums on New Caledonia's self-determination be held....

During debates on Tuesday, Senators often alluded to the recent radicalisation from both the pro-independence and pro-French parties.

Last week, the two antagonist tendencies held two demonstrations and marches at the same time, both in downtown Nouméa, only a few hundred meters away from each other.

Thousands, on each side, have held banners and flags opposing the electoral changes on one side and supporting them on the other side.

There was also a clear escalation in the tone of speeches held, notably on the "loyalists" (pro-France).

Part of their protest last Thursday was also to denounce a series of government-imposed taxes, including one on fuel (which has since been withdrawn after a series of blockades) and the other on electricity (to avoid bankruptcy for local power company Enercal)

Last month, "loyalists" members walked out of New Caledonia's "collegial" government, saying they regarded their pro-independence party colleagues as "illegitimate".

On the local scene, over the past few months, New Caledonia has been facing the very real effects of an economic crisis for its crucial nickel industry.

One of the three nickel mining plants has been temporarily shut down and the other two are facing a similarly bleak future, putting at risk thousands of jobs....

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