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By Patrick Antoine Decloitre

PAPEETE, Tahiti (Oceania Flash, Jan. 11) – Seven lists of political parties in French Polynesia have registered ahead of the French Pacific country’s by-elections, scheduled to be held on February 13.

The special elections, to include 37 of the 57 seats in the country’s parliament, are to be held in the Windward island group, including the main island of Tahiti.

Two of these lists are headed by French Polynesia’s political rivals, pro-French candidate and current president Gaston Flosse and pro-independence candidate Oscar Temaru, who briefly came to power in June last year after general elections, but was toppled by a motion of no confidence less than four months later.

Flosse’ party, the Tahoeraa Huiraatira, is going it alone and is capitalizing on a list of mostly confirmed and veteran politicians, like Pape’ete Lord Mayor and French National Assembly MP Michel Buillard, or Flosse’s son-in-law and Vice-President, Edouard Fritch.

Local political observers also commented at the weekend that Flosse’s choice of top co-lists was an indication that Buillard would seem to become the preferred successor to the long-time ruler, who is 73.

Commentators even go as far as speculating that if Flosse’s party were to win enough seats in the local legislative assembly in this constituency, Buillard could become French Polynesia’s next President.

Temaru’s Tavini Huiraatira has secured alliances with six small pro-independence or pro-rights groups, like the Greens (Heuira-Les Verts) and local human rights advocate Stanley Cross’s newly-formed Te Hono party.

Temaru’s group, like last year, is entering the political campaign under the banner of "Union for Democracy."

But this time, Temaru cannot rely on two pro-autonomy parties that were at his side during last year’s general elections: the No oe e Te Nunaa (headed by politician Nicole Bouteau) and the Fetia Api (headed by Philippe Schyle) have decided to join force and form a « Alliance for a New Democracy ».

All in all, the seven lists registered for next month’s by-elections are : Tahoeraa Huiraatira, Union for Democracy/Tapura Amui No Te Faatereraa, Alliance for a New Democracy, Te’Avei’A, Porinetia Ora, Te Taata Tahiti Tiama and Taatiraa No Te Hau (which was previously in coalition with Flosse’s Tahoeraa Huiraatira).

General elections last year in French Polynesia saw an unprecedented popular verdict and subsequent polarisation within French Polynesia’s community, after general elections toppled Flosse in May 2004, bringing his long-time foe and pro-independence leader Oscar Temaru to prominence.

But Temaru’s Union for Democracy (UPLD) coalition, which first secured a very lean majority of 30 in the 57-seat legislative assembly, was short-lived: less than four months after it came to power, one of its MPs crossed the floor and Temaru’s government was ousted in a motion of no confidence early October.

Later that month, Flosse (who until May 2004 had ruled French Polynesia for most of the past two decades) was returned to power as French Polynesia’s President.

However, in another twist, Temaru supporters and sympathisers protested and blockaded several key government buildings in the following weeks.

They were asking for fresh elections.

Late November, talks in Paris between Flosse and Temaru, fostered by French minister for overseas Brigitte Girardin, broke down when Flosse said one of the pre-conditions was that all blockades on government building should be lifted and that this had not happened.

Tension also seemed to appease late November, after the Paris-based State Council (France’s highest administrative tribunal) ruled the May 2004 poll results in the Windward Islands group (where the main island of Tahiti is located) null and void, saying it had found « grave irregularities » there.

The ruling triggered a by-election for the crucial constituency which accounts for 37 of the 57 seats in the local legislative assembly and a total of over 110,000 voters.

Temaru, who is also running as the main candidate in his stronghold of Faa’a town, said last month he wanted to ask France, the European Union and the Pacific Islands Forum to consider sending observers to monitor the elections.

The French Greens have announced last week they would send a former minister in the Socialist government, Dominique Voynet, as an observer for the key elections.

Meanwhile, the French Media regulatory Council, the CSA (Conseil supérieur de l’audiovisuel) has reminded last week all local media (radios, televisions and print) of the specific duties they had regarding balanced reporting during the electoral campaign.The CSA’s recommendation is making specific reference to a "fair access for all parties", "existing rules pertaining to air time" and "publication of results".

The French media watchdog also says it would not hesitate to considering declaring the poll null and void if it was established that the campaign was tarnished by "insults".

January 12, 2005

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