France declares state of emergency in New Caledonia amidst riots against proposed voting changes News
Pilettes, CC BY-SA 3.0, via Wikimedia Commons
France declares state of emergency in New Caledonia amidst riots against proposed voting changes

France declared a state of emergency in New Caledonia on Wednesday in an attempt to quell recent riots in the South Pacific territory, which left four people dead and hundreds injured. The riots have grown out of opposition to a set of proposed changes to voting rights in the territory. The change would enfranchise those who have lived there for ten years or more. Presently, voting rights are limited to the indigenous Kanak population, as well as those who were born before 1988 and had their domicile in New Caledonia throughout 1988 and 1998 or were born after 1988 and have one parent who was eligible to vote in the 1998 election.

The concern expressed by the Kanaks, who make up just under 40 percent of the total population, is that their voice will be marginalized from such an expansion as the other 60 percent of the population is made up largely of descendants of European colonists and settlers. The recent events reflect a longstanding tension between the indigenous population and the colonial power. New Caledonia is a French Overseas Collective, meaning that it has a large amount of domestic autonomy, although its foreign policy and defense remains in the hands of France. A large amount of the autonomy that New Caledonia enjoys is a product of the Nouméa Accord, which was signed in 1998. This accord mapped out several crucial aspects of the governance of New Caledonia, with a vision of leading it towards emancipation.

Authorities have banned public gatherings and imposed a curfew in the New Caledonian capital city of Nouméa in response to the unrest. French officials have called for immediate calm and dialogue to resolve the issue, and hope that the altered nature brought about by the state of emergency will restore the region to peaceful conditions.