The French Socialist candidate for the presidency, Francois Hollande, says he won't declare whether he is for or against New Caledonia's independence.
In a message coninciding with the formal launch of the two-week election campaign, Mr Hollande says the choice will be made by New Caledonians only, adding that he will respect their choice.
Correspondents say his stance is an allusion to his rival, Nicolas Sarkozy, who last year used his visit to Noumea to express his conviction that New Caledonia should stay French.
A referendum on possible independence from France is scheduled between 2014 and 2018 as outlined in the Noumea Accord on greater autonomy.
Mr Hollande has also pointed out that the left has always played its role and helping with reconciliation in the territory.
In the 2007 election, Mr Sarkozy scored his best election result of any constituency in New Caledonia.