FORT-DE-FRANCE, Martinique (AP) — Voters in Martinique and French Guiana overwhelmingly rejected a proposal Sunday to give local government more autonomy while remaining a part of France.
Election officials in Martinique said 80 percent of voters rejected the referendum, with 55 percent participation, according to preliminary results. In French Guiana, 70 percent voted “no,” with 48 percent turnout.
The ballot measure in each of the two French Caribbean departments called for giving local governments more administrative leeway. French President Nicolas Sarkozy would have determined the extent of the autonomy.
Article 74, as it is known, would have replaced Article 73 of the constitution, which has governed the political status of Martinique and French Guiana for 64 years.
The referendum was a first for French Guiana, while Martinique rejected a similar measure six years ago.
With Sunday’s referendum failing, voters will now decide Jan. 24 whether to support the creation of a local authority that will combine the existing general and regional councils that govern each department.
Jaqueline Manger, a Martinique resident who voted against Sunday’s proposal, said Article 73 provided assurance that the island would continue to develop socially and economically.
“I would like a change, but I don’t think we are ready yet. I don’t trust the people who lead the regional council and the general council,” she said, referring to the local bodies that govern Martinique.
The referendum came one year after violent strikes paralyzed the islands of Martinique and Guadeloupe for more than a month as union leaders demanded higher wages and lower prices. Business leaders agreed to several changes, but some unrest continues.
Sarkozy suggested the referendum last June following the strikes, saying the status of France’s overseas departments was based on an “unfair, obscure and biased” system.
Guadeloupe did not participate in the referendum because officials said the island was still struggling economically, and they preferred to first hold regional elections scheduled for March.