New Caledonia Flag

New Caledonia Travel Guide

Political Development

After WW II, France had a fairly progressive colonial policy. Partly due to a shortage of labor in the nickel industry, the Kanaks were finally given French citizenship in 1946, and the repressive "indigenous regulations" that forbade them from leaving their reservations without police permission were repealed.

In 1951, the French parliament gave the right to vote to a large number of indigenous people throughout the French Union, and Maurice Lenormand of the multiracial Union Calédonienne was elected to the French National Assembly. Lenormand's lobbying won an elected territorial assembly with the power to make laws, and in 1957, New Caledonia became an Overseas Territory and seemed on the road to independence.

Then came an armed uprising by French settlers on June 18, 1958, and the rise to power in France of Général de Gaulle, who dissolved the territorial assembly and appointed a repressive new governor. In 1963, Lenormand was jailed for a year, and deprived of his civil liberties by the French government for five years in a frame-up involving the bombing of the Territorial Assembly. The same year, the French National Assembly scrapped New Caledonia's limited autonomy and returned full control to the governor.

Lenormand's successor, Roch Pidjot, Kanak chief of the La Conception tribe near Nouméa, represented the Union Calédonienne in the French National Assembly for two decades until his retirement in 1986. His many proposals for self-government were never considered. A 1977 gerrymander created a second National Assembly seat for Nouméa and the west coast of Grande Terre, and this was taken a year later by businessman Jacques Lafleur, the wealthiest person in New Caledonia. In 1979, the Union Calédonienne united with four other pro-independence parties to form the Front Indépendantiste, which took 14 of the 36 seats in the Territorial Assembly.

On September 19, 1981, Pierre Declercq, secretary-general of the Union Calédonienne, was shot through a window of his Mont-Dore home. No one has ever been brought to trial for this crime. Declercq's murder further united the independence movement, and in the 1982 elections, the Front Indépendantiste gained a majority in the territorial assembly. Jean-Marie Tjibaou (pronounced Chi-BOW), a former Catholic priest, became vice-president of the government council.

Continue to   History: New Caledonia in Crisis   »