In June 1989, elections were held for the three provincial assemblies created under the Matignon Accords. The FLNKS gained majorities in North and Loyalty Islands provinces, while the settler-based RPCR won in South Province. The RPCR's large majority in Nouméa also gave it enough seats to control the Territorial Congress. The 1995 and 1999 elections largely duplicated these results, but the 2004 election was somewhat of an upset as the more moderate Avenir Ensemble party defeated the RPCR in South Province. Divisions within the FLNKS have limited its effectiveness.
During the 1990s, the French government threw over a billion U.S. dollars at New Caledonia in the form of schools, infrastructure, and administration buildings, all with the intent of tying the colony firmly to France by making it more economically dependent than ever. Yet despite the job training programs, Kanak unemployment has remained high, and many of the new jobs created by the projects have gone to newly arrived immigrants from France. The 20 percent of the population that is unemployed is almost entirely Kanak.
In 1998, when the date of the promised referendum on independence rolled around, the French government called together representatives of the various parties to sign the Nouméa Accord, which calls for a gradual devolvement of authority to the territory over a period of 15 to 20 years. This was approved by 72 percent of New Caledonia voters in a November 1998 referendum. Sometime between 2014 and 2018, longtime residents of the territory may have the opportunity to vote in yet another independence referendum. Meanwhile, France retains full control over justice, law and order, defense, and the currency, and a wave of French immigration continues to pour into the territory, creating irreversible facts on the ground.
Discontent continues to simmer, and many Kanak urban youth and rural villagers who don't share in the spoils of French colonialism are dissatisfied with an arrangement that has given their leaders luxurious lifestyles but themselves much less. To enforce the status quo, some 3,500 French soldiers and police backed up by helicopters and armored cars are currently stationed in New Caledonia, about one heavily armed French serviceman for every eight young Kanaks. And no one doubts France's willingness to employ deadly force to hang onto New Caledonia's mineral riches, both on land and undersea, and to preserve the role this important colony plays in projecting French power around the world.
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