Close Noumea race in New Caledonia municipal election
Most communes in New Caledonia will go to the polls for a run-off after Sunday's municipal election.
Most communes in New Caledonia will go to the polls for a run-off after Sunday's municipal election only produced an outright winner in a quarter of contests.
The election of the 33 mayors is seen as a test for the provincial elections in May which will usher in the final phase of the Noumea Accord with its possible independence referendum.
Walter Zweifel reports.
Most attention has been paid to the mayor's race in the capital, Noumea - the city, which for decades has been run by Jean Leques of the centre-right anti-independence camp.
During his tenure, the political landscape changed, splintering the loyalists into fierce rivals who, in Noumea at least, run no risk to lose out to the pro-indepedence side.
In the campaign, the outgoing mayor Mr Leques pointed out that the city is for everyone and one which he described as a happening place
Mr Leques of the traditional Rassemblement-UMP threw his support behind Jean-Claude Briault.
But voters have placed him a distant third behind Sonia Lagarde and Gael Yanno who will go into next Sunday's round neck-and-neck, having won 36 and 34 percent of the votes respectively.
Mrs Lagarde is from the Caledonia Together Party which has risen to prominence after winning the territory's two seats in the French National Assembly two years ago.
She replaced in the Paris post Mr Yanno who has the support of the French UMP faction led by Jean-Francois Cope.
Mr Yanno has been campaigning for improved housing in an urban zone marked by stark contrasts of luxury villas and shantytowns.
Mrs Lagarde says her team represents a diversity of talent.
Despite the differences between them, there is the attachment ot France as a common denominator as expressed by Mr Briault.
After his setback at the polls, Mr Briault is yet to say if he will stand in Sunday's run-off.
Should he pull out, he would release backers who would then have to choose between Mrs Lagarde and Mr Yanno.
While some prominent mayors, such as the territory's president, Harold Martin, and a Senator, Hilarion Vendegou, will have to contest the run-off, the leading pro-independence politicians Paul Neaoutyine and the vice-president, Gilbert Tyuienon, have retained their posts.
The outcome of the Noumea race on Sunday is awaited keenly as it will give pointers for the May elections for new provincial assemblies out of which the new Congress will emerge.
Its make-up is vital as it will have a window to organise a referendum on independence.
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