The French Pacific island territory of New Caledonia will hold a referendum on independence from France on October 4, a month later than originally planned due to the coronavirus pandemic, according to the French government.
Initially scheduled for September 6, the vote has been “delayed to October 4, 2020, due to the consequences of the health crisis”, French government spokeswoman Sibeth Ndiaye told reporters on Wednesday.
The second vote on independence follows a referendum in November 2018 when 57 percent of voters chose to remain part of France.
The government in Paris had already proposed October 4 as the new date, but on June 12 a majority of the members of New Caledonia’s Parliament voted in favour of October 25.
Local elections in France due to be held on Sunday had been pushed back by three months due to the coronavirus crisis, and pro-independence group FLNKS had argued that the campaign “encroached upon” the referendum.
The centre-right Caledonia Together party, which is against independence, was also in favour of October 25 to guarantee a turnout as high as in 2018, when 81 percent voted.
A French territory since 1853, New Caledonia is a remote island territory in the southwest Pacific with about 270,000 inhabitants.
It is located about 2,000km (1,242 miles) east of Australia – about 18,000km (11,184 miles) from mainland France.
The majority of New Caledonia’s population is made up of Indigenous Melanesians known locally as Kanaks (39 percent) and people from European origin known as Caldoche (27 percent).
Violent clashes between Kanaks and Caldoches in the 1980s were ended by a French-brokered reconciliation, attempting to rebalance wealth and share out political power.
A landmark 1988 deal between France and opponents and supporters of independence gave the islands more autonomy.
The deal also said there could be up to three votes on independence up until 2022. If the poll on October 4 does not yield independence, there will be one remaining vote.