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Macron suspends contested voting reforms in New Caledonia after deadly unrest

French President Emmanuel Macron has suspended controversial voting reforms in New Caledonia after an outbreak of deadly unrest in the French island territory. 

The unrest which flared up in New Caledonia on 13 May led to the deaths of 9 people. 

“The constitutional bill regarding New Caledonia… I have decided to suspend,” Macron said on Wednesday. 

He continued, “We cannot leave ambiguity during this period. It must be suspended to give full strength to dialogue on the ground and the return to order.”

The controversial voting reform would change existing conditions which prevented one-fifth of the population from voting in provincial elections. 

The 1998 Noumea Accord restricts the electorate for local elections to those residing on the island before 1998 and their descendants who have maintained continuous residence on the territory for at least 10 years. The voting restrictions were implemented to ensure the island territory's indigenous population would have increased political power.

Indigenous Kanak people constitute about 41% of the population. The voting reform would have given voting rights to tens of thousands of non-indigenous residents, a move that indigenous Kanaks feared would marginalize them and their push for independence. 

Both France’s National Assembly and the Senate approved the reform, however, it was waiting on the constitutional congress of both houses to become part of the basic law.

Upon the announcement that Macaron would dissolve parliament and call a snap election, the congress can not be held by the deadline of 30 June. 

As a result, independence movements in New Caledonia have already characterized the voting reform as dead. The Kanak Liberation Party (Palika) said, “We can all agree that the European elections saw off the constitutional bill. This should be a time for rebuilding peace and social ties.”

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