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New Caledonia rejects independence from France

The South Pacific territory of New Caledonia chose to remain French on Sunday, narrowly rejecting independence in a tightly-fought referendum marked by a high turnout.

New Caledonia rejects independence from France
A person picks up a voting form at a polling station in the referendum on independence on the French South Pacific territory of New Caledonia in Noumea on October 4, 2020. AFP

The vote rejecting a breakaway from France after almost 170 years came in at 53.26 percent, according to final results, down from 56.7 percent in a referendum two years ago.

French President Emmanuel Macron — who had said previously that “France would be less beautiful without New Caledonia” — on Sunday said he was grateful to the archipelago's voters.

'Gratitude', 'humility'

“I welcome this sign of confidence in the republic with a profound sense of gratitude,” Macron said from his office.

He added that he also felt “humility” at the outcome which showed a clear progression of the pro-independence vote compared with the independence referendum in 2018.

A ballot box at a polling station in the referendum on independence on the French South Pacific territory of New Caledonia in Noumea on October 4, 2020. Theo Rouby / AFP

Sunday's referendum was part of a carefully negotiated decolonisation plan agreed in 1998 which ended a deadly conflict between the mostly pro-independence indigenous Kanak population and the descendants of European settlers.

That violence culminated in a bloody, drawn-out hostage crisis in 1988 that saw 19 separatists killed, along with six police and special forces personnel.

Another referendum can be held by 2022 so long as the poll is requested by at least a third of the local legislature.

Most political observers had forecast a win for the no-vote as well as a narrower margin.

Turnout was 85.64 percent, more than four points higher than last time, as the prospect of a tight race brought voters out in droves, patiently awaiting their turns at polling stations.

“I waited 45 minutes. It's very important for me to vote,” said retiree Germaine Le Demezet in the capital Noumea.

People wait in line to cast their vote in the referendum on independence on the French South Pacific territory of New Caledonia, in Noumea on October 4, 2020. Theo Rouby / AFP

READ ALSO: Five things to know about the far-flung French territory holding an independence referendum

'We need to know'

“I have children and grandchildren here, the future needs to be clear and we need to know what's going to happen to us.”

New Caledonia has taken strict measures to keep the coronavirus out of the territory, and with case numbers low, the referendum took place without masks and other measures.

A man casts his vote at a polling station. Theo Rouby / AFP

New Caledonia, situated between Australia and Fiji and sometimes called “The Pebble”, was seized by France in 1853 and is home to 270,000 people.

The economy's mainstays are the production of metals, especially nickel of which New Caledonia is a major global producer, as well as tourism and financial support from mainland France.

A view of New Caledonia, AFP.

The French government, from more than 16,000 kilometres (10,000 miles) away, subsidises the territory with around 1.5 billion euros ($1.75 billion) every year, the equivalent of more than 15 percent of New Caledonia's gross domestic product.

A special authorisation allowing the French national flag to be used in campaign spots angered the pro-independence Kanak and Socialist National Liberation Front (FLNKS), which accused Paris of taking sides against independence. The last colonies to gain independence from France were Djibouti in 1977.

 

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POLITICS

Rugby tickets, coffee and stickers – French presidential candidates chastised over expenses claims

From coffee runs to rugby tickets and professional photos - France's election financing body has revealed some of the items it has refused to reimburse from the 2022 presidential race.

Rugby tickets, coffee and stickers - French presidential candidates chastised over expenses claims

Spending on the election trail is tightly regulated in France, with maximum campaign spends per candidate as well as a list of acceptable expenses that can be reimbursed.

In France the State pays at least some of the election campaign costs, with the budget calculated according to how many votes the candidate ends up getting. 

READ MORE: 5 things to know about French election campaign financing

On Friday, the government body (la Commission nationale des comptes de campagne et des financements politiques – or CNCCFP) released its findings for the 12 candidates who ran in the April 2022 presidential campaign. 

All of the candidates had their accounts approved, but 11 out of the 12 were refused reimbursement on certain items. Here are some of the items that did not get CNCCFP approval;

Rugby tickets 

Jean Lassalle – the wildcard ‘pro farmer’ candidate who received about three percent of votes cast in the first round of the 2022 election – bought “19 tickets to attend a rugby match” according to the CNCCFP’s findings. The organisation said it would not be reimbursing the tickets and questioned “the electoral nature of the event”. 

The total cost of the tickets was €465 (or €24.50 each).

Too many coffees

Socialist candidate, and current mayor of Paris, Anne Hidalgo reportedly spent at least €1,600 on coffee for her team during the campaign.

According to the CNCCFP, however, the caffeine needed to keep a presidential campaign running did not qualify under the country’s strict campaign financing rules.

Too many stickers

Hard-left candidate Jean-Luc Mélenchon’s was told that the 1.2 million stickers that were bought – to the tune of €28,875 – to advertise the campaign would not be reimbursed. Mélenchon justified the purchasing of the stickers – saying that in the vast majority of cases they were used to build up visibility for campaign events, but CNCCFP ruled that “such a large number” was not justified. 

Mélenchon was not the only one to get in trouble for his signage. Extreme-right candidate Éric Zemmour was accused of having put up over 10,000 posters outside official places reserved for signage. The same went for the far-right’s Marine Le Pen, who decided to appeal the CNCCFP’s decision not to reimburse €300,000 spent on putting posters of her face with the phrase “M la France” on 12 campaign buses.

Poster pictures

Emmanuel Macron – who won re-election in 2022 – will not be reimbursed for the €30,000 spent on a professional photographer Soazig de la Moissonière, who works as his official photographer and took the picture for his campaign poster. 

The CNCCFP said that Macron’s team had “not sufficiently justified” the expenditure.

Expensive Airbnbs

Green party member Yannick Jadot reportedly spent €6,048 on Airbnbs in the city of Paris for some of his campaign employees – an expense that the CNCCFP said that public funds would not cover.

Translating posters

The campaign finance body also refused to reimburse the Mélenchon campaign’s decision to translate its programme into several foreign languages at a cost of €5,398.

The CNCCFP said that they did not consider the translations to be “an expense specifically intended to obtain votes” in a French election.

Best and worst in class

The extreme-right pundit Zemmour had the largest amount of money not reimbursed. Zemmour created a campaign video that used film clips and historic news footage without permission and also appeared on CNews without declaring his candidacy – because of these two offences, CNCCFP has reduced his reimbursement by €200,000. He has been hit with a separate bill of €70,000 after he was found guilty of copyright infringement over the campaign video. 

The star pupil was Nathalie Arthaud, high-school teacher and candidate for the far-left Lutte Ouvriere party, who apparently had “completely clean accounts”. A CNCCFP spokesperson told Le Parisien that if all candidate accounts were like Arthauds’, then “we would be unemployed”.

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