The Pacific French territory of New Caledonia voted overwhelmingly to reject independence from France on Sunday. The poll was marred by a low turnout after secessionists boycotted the referendum.
After all of the ballots were counted, the ‘No’ vote won by a whopping 95.5% to 3.5%, local broadcaster NC La 1ere reported.
However, the reported turnout was low, with only 43.9% of eligible voters on the Pacific island of some 271,000 coming to the polling stations, according to the broadcaster.
Référendum 2021 : les résultats provisoires dévoilés, 96,50% de suffrages pour le Non, 3,50% pour le Oui.https://t.co/7WZNLh2VUXpic.twitter.com/aMsoBJGvyB
The indigenous Kanak population, who are believed to be the main supporters of parting ways with Paris, called for a boycott of the referendum over a 12-month mourning period they announced after a spike in infections and deaths from Covid-19 in September.
It was the third such independence vote in New Caledonia. The results were much tighter in 2018 and 2020, with those seeking to remain with France only winning by 57% to 53%, respectively.
The series of independence referendums took place on the island in line with a 1988 deal, which followed a violent conflict between supporters and opponents of independence in the 1980s.
French President Emmanuel Macron has welcomed the result of Sunday’s plebiscite, saying that “the Caledonians have chosen to remain French” and insisting that they “decided that freely.”
The vote results have been touted as a major win for Macron as New Caledonia is said to be the cornerstone of his plan to boost French influence in the Indo-Pacific region.
“France became more beautiful because New Caledonia has decided to stay,” Macron said in a televised address on Sunday.
However, the president acknowledged “the electorate remained deeply divided over the years” on the independence issue, adding that a “period of transition is now starting” on the island.