The independence referendum of New Caledonia, a French enclave located in the Pacific north of New Zealand, began today with the opening of 284 polling stations, which are called 174,000 voters.
The polling stations opened at 08.00 local time on Sunday (21.00 GMT on Saturday) and will remain open for ten hours.
The question that is asked of voters is: "Do you want New Caledonia to accede to full sovereignty and become independent?"
All the surveys give a wide advantage to the "no", of more than 60%, that would leave this archipelago as part of France although it is expected to deepen its already ample autonomy, with its own citizenship, legislative independence and, even, the possibility of being in international institutions.
The supporters of independence, who have their main support among the native population, the Kanaks, who represent the poorest sectors of society, can claim two more referendums in the next four years, while, in their condition of exile , they maintain the right of self-determination recognized by the UN.
The unionists, majority among the settlers, consider that independence would lead New Caledonia to fall under the influence of China.
A dozen observers from the United Nations will monitor the scrutiny, as will two hundred agents sent by France.
In anticipation of incidents, following the call for the boycott of the most radical independence groups, the French authorities have sent police reinforcements from the metropolis that will be deployed by the main island, where the capital of the archipelago, Noumea, as well as by the other of smaller size.
Four hours after the closing of the polls it is expected that the results will be known, and an hour later that the French president, Emmanuel Macron, take stock of them from the metropolis.
The Prime Minister, Edouard Philippe, will meet on Monday the main political forces of the archipelago to analyze the results.