FRENCH SENATE ENDORSES CRUCIAL CONSTITUTIONAL AMENDMENT AFFECTING FRENCH

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POLYNESIA AND NEW CALEDONIA

PAPEETE, French Polynesia (October 13, 1999 - PINA Nius Online)---The French Senate in Paris endorsed a crucial constitutional amendment Tuesday, paving the way for a change in the political status of French Polynesia.

The amendment to the French constitution, if ratified by the French Congress, will change French Polynesia's overseas territory's status to that of an "overseas country" and will hand over key portfolios from Paris to the local government.

Last June, the French National Assembly unanimously passed the same bill.

On Tuesday, the Senate voted 313 for and 3 against.

The bill concerns both French Polynesia and New Caledonia, but on different matters. (See following report pertaining to New Caledonia.)

The amendment project now remains to be finally ratified by the French Congress (both the Senate and National Assembly), which is expected to be convened by President Jacques Chirac during the first half of next year.

On French Polynesia, Article 78 of the French constitution is to be modified to read, "French Polynesia governs itself freely and democratically within the French Republic. Its autonomy and own interests as an overseas country are guaranteed through a status which is defined by an organic law."

The law is currently being drafted by the French Polynesian government after consultation with French Assistant Overseas Minister Jean-Jack Queyranne.

Speaking on Tuesday, Queyranne recalled that French Polynesia had enjoyed an autonomous status, with its own government, for the past fifteen years.

"The moment has come to make a new step toward the affirmation of this territory's identity, in order to answer expectations of the Polynesians whose majority aspire to blossom within the French Republic. But this requires constitutional reform."

He confirmed French government agreement on key issues regarding French Polynesia's institutional future.

These include the irreversibility of the handover of powers from Paris to Papeete, including the power for French Polynesia to negotiate and sign international treaties.

A French Polynesian citizenship is also to be established, allowing local citizens priority access to jobs, land purchase and, when setting up a business, loans.

The French government, under the proposed change, would, however, retain responsibility over law and order, public liberties, civic rights, the judiciary, defense, money and currency matters.

The French High Commissioner (the French government's delegate) would remain in office as a "guarantor of national interests and law and order matters."

 

FRENCH SENATE ENDORSES AMENDMENT ON NEW CALEDONIA'S ELECTORAL ROLL

NOUMEA, New Caledonia (October 13, 1999 - PINA Nius Online)---The French Senate in Paris endorsed a constitutional amendment Tuesday, including a clearer definition of New Caledonia's sensitive electoral roll controversy over "interpretation of the Noumea Accords."

The amendment includes a provision aimed at "settling an interpretation difficulty regarding the accord signed in Noumea on May 5, 1998."

The key issues pertained to New Caledonian citizenship and the inherent voting rights to be conferred, especially in reference to the election of local provincial assemblies, congress and a possible referendum on New Caledonia's independence within "15 to 20 years," as stipulated in the accords.

The Senate approved the bill defining eligible voters as those "already on the electoral roll. . . November 8, 1998" and who, at the time, had been residents of New Caledonia for at least ten years.

Pro-independence parties in New Caledonia defended the move, saying any other interpretation contradicted the spirit of the Noumea Accords.

The constitutional amendment also considers a reference to a "register" to be kept. It defines the register as a list of those French voters who would not qualify for provincial, congress and referendum polls. However, they would still be entitled to vote on strictly French matters, as would future New Caledonian citizens.

This bulletin was produced by the Pacific Islands News Association (PINA). Editor: Patrick Antoine Decloitre E-mail: padec@iname.com 

For more information, contact Nina Ratulele, PINA Administrator, at pina@is.com.fj 

Pacific Islands News Association (PINA) Damodar Centre, 1st Floor 46 Gordon Street Suva, Republic of the Fiji Islands Tel: (679) 303 623 Fax : (679) 303 943

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