MELBOURNE (Reuters) – New Caledonia has elected Louis Mapou as its first pro-independence president since a 1998 deal with Paris to grant more political power to the French Pacific territory, Radio Australia reported on Thursday.
The election comes a few months before the third and final referendum that the island can legally take on whether to secede from France under the 1998 agreement, known as the Noumea Accord.
Two prior referendums in 2018 and 2020 both failed to win a majority in favour of independence, but support for remaining part of France dropped from 56.7% in 2018 to 53.26% in 2020.
Mapou sits on the board of directors of France’s Eramet, which runs nickel mines, the Doniambo ferro-nickel plant near the port of Noumea, and a refinery that produces a type of nickel that can be used in electric vehicle batteries.
He also worked as the director general of New Caledonia’s Rural Development and Land Development Agency from 1998 to 2005.
The nickel-rich territory has been seeing fresh interest from international companies searching for materials to fuel the ongoing electric vehicle boom.
Electric car maker Tesla Inc has agreed to a technical and industrial partnership with a consortium including trade house Trafigura, Prony Resources, which this year bought out a nickel business in the territory, previously owned by Brazil’s Vale.
(Reporting by Melanie Burton; Editing by Kenneth Maxwell)