The South Pacific archipelago participated in the polls today for its second independence referendum in several years. The “yes” vote would have seen New Caledonia cut ties with France after nearly 170 years in what would have been a major blow to the French president.
But, “no” won with 53.26% compared to 46.7%.
Macron said: “The voters have said their word.
They confirmed their desire to keep New Caledonia a part of France.
“As a head of state, I salute this display of confidence in the republic with a deep feeling of gratitude.”
The result is likely to be a great relief to the French president who has been preoccupied with the coronavirus crisis.
But a third and final referendum on independence could be held within two years.
The referendum was the second of up to three permitted under the terms of the 1998 Nouméa Accord.
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Macron said France was ready to hold a third referendum within two years if New Caledonia called for it.
But he insisted at that point that both sides should accept the outcome.
The French President said: “We have two years to look to the future.”
New Caledonia became a French colony in 1853.
The region enjoys a large degree of autonomy but relies on France for things like defense and education.
There have been long-standing tensions between the indigenous Kanak people who are pro-independence and the descendants of the colonial settlers who remain loyal to Paris.
A vote of “yes” would have deprived Paris of a foothold in a region where China is expanding its influence.
The loss of New Caledonia could also have had an enormous impact on the pride of a colonial power whose influence previously extended to large parts of Africa, Southeast Asia, the Caribbean, and the Pacific.