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By Patrick Antoine Decloitre

PAPEETE, Tahiti (Oceania Flash, Jan. 25) – More than half of French Polynesia's voters are still undecided as to which party they will choose at next month's crucial by-elections, according to a poll published on Tuesday in the local media.

According to the news poll published by the daily newspaper La Dépêche de Tahiti, 52 percent of 962 voters said they had not made up their mind yet between the seven lists filed by French Polynesia's political parties.

Another 36.5 percent did not wish to indicate their opinion.

Among those who did express an opinion, according to the same poll, French Polynesia's long-time ruler and current President, Gaston Flosse, and his Tahoeraa Huiraatira, are credited with 23.4 percent of voters' intentions.

Flosse's rival, pro-independence Oscar Temaru and his Union for Democracy (UPLD) would receive 19.8 percent of the votes, if the February 13 elections were to take place this Sunday, the poll revealed.

A newly formed Alliance for a New Democracy (AND), which consists of two of Temaru's former coalition partners, the Fetia Api (headed by Philippe Schyle) and the No oe e Te Nunaa (headed by politician Nicole Bouteau) also seems to emerge, with some 18 percent of vote intentions.

On another question included in the poll, asking who would be their preferred individual leader, panel members placed two women first: Tahoeraa Huiraatira politician Béatrice Vernaudon and No oe e Te Nunaa leader Nicole Bouteau.

Both personalities receive 67 percent of "favorable opinions."

Temaru, on the same indicator, got 59 percent, Schyle 53 and Flosse comes last with 47 percent of favorable opinions.

Seven separate 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, in the largest constituency of the Windward island group that include the main island of Tahiti.

Two of the main lists are headed by French Polynesia's political rivals, pro-French Gaston Flosse (who is the current President and has been for most of the past two decades) and pro-independence 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 (which accounts for a heavy 37 of the 57 seats in the House), 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 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 the 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 polarization 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 sympathizers 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 Forum said last week it had now received a reply from Paris, saying the observer mission was "not appropriate" for the time being.

January 25, 2005

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