FRENCH MINISTER CALLS FOR CALM IN TAHITI

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By Patrick Antoine Decloitre

PAPEETE, Tahiti (Oceania Flash, Feb. 14) – French Minister For Overseas Territories Brigitte Girardin reacted on Monday to election results in French Polynesia, calling on all parties to "display a sense of responsibility" so that the French Pacific country "does not fall into instability."

French Polynesia's Monday by-elections, in its largest constituency, the Windward Islands, produced a victory for pro-independence leader Oscar Temaru and his Union for Democracy (UPLD) coalition. But the impact on the local legislative assembly now gives no one party a majority: Temaru's gain only gives him 27 of the 57 seats in the House, exactly the same number as pro-French long-time ruler Gaston Flosse's Tahoeraa Huiraatira.

The three remaining seats are held by Nicole Bouteau's Alliance for a New Democracy (ADN), which defines itself as "pro-autonomy" but against any form of alliance with either Flosse or Temaru.

"In the face of this situation that does not, at this stage, show any majority within French Polynesia's Assembly, I invite all political forces to display a sense of responsibility and create the conditions so that (French Polynesia) does not fall into instability and can be managed in a serene atmosphere," Girardin stated in a release posted on her ministry's website. "I remain available to all in order to foster the emergence of a local consensus."

Meanwhile, the French Socialist party in Parks, which had thrown its support behind Temaru, welcomed the pro-independence leader's victory.

"This is a clear and unequivocal victory," spokesman Julien Dray told a press conference on Monday at the party's headquarters. "This is also a clear defeat for Gaston Flosse, for his party UMP (France's government ruling party) and for the French President who were behind Mr Flosse.

"French Polynesia's territorial assembly cannot turn its back on this poll's results," Dray added.

Girardin's predecessor, Christian Paul, a former minister in a Socialist-led government in France between 2000 and 2002, said the election results expressed "a massive and yet calm refusal of a system that was eating French Polynesia like a cancer. The universal suffrage had indicated without any ambiguity the direction to take, and this is change."

The French Greens, another component of the current parliamentary opposition, have also reacted in a release, saying Monday's popular results were "a step forward for democracy against autocracy... and Gaston Flosse's personal power, with the backing of his friend Jacques Chirac."

No immediate reaction was available from either UMP or UDF (centre-right party).

UDF President François Bayrou was in French Polynesia last week to support Bouteau's ADN.

On the local scene, Flosse told media the results showed that pro-autonomy parties, overall, still retained a majority in the local Parliament.

"The pro-autonomy have won," he said. "We are 30 (MPs) in the assembly, against 27 pro-independence."

Flosse said his party "might need to meet" Bouteau's ADN party and "see if there are conditions and opportunities for alliance."

Bouteau, although she now holds the balance of power in the Parliament, has maintained she would not negotiate either with Flosse or Temaru, because her ADN party wanted to stay out of a polarized Flosse-Temaru political spectrum.

She also said she believed Monday's vote was primarily a "sanction against Flosse," but that French Polynesia was now once again thrown "in total instability."

Flosse ruled out the prospect of his resignation for the time being, saying this could only be referred to his party's central committee.

Speaking from his stronghold of Faa'a to the sounds of a crowd chanting "Oscar President" waving hundreds of blue and white flags - the colors of Temaru's Tavini Huiraatira party - Temaru said he expected this kind of victory and called on Flosse to resign from his position of President.

"A page has now been turned in French Polynesia's politics, and I think (Flosse) should accept this, as a good sportsman he is," Temaru told France 2 television channel.

The French High commission in the capital Pape'ete on Tuesday night (Monday Pape'ete time) announced that Temaru's Union for Democracy (UPLD) coalition had secured 46.94 percent of votes in the Tahiti and Moorea constituency, known as the Windward Islands.

This amounted to 25 seats in the local legislative assembly and also included a 13-seat bonus for UPLD (which secured the highest score).

French Polynesia's long-time ruling President Gaston Flosse's Tahoeraa Huiraatira party received 40 per cent of the suffrages (10 seats).

A newly formed party, the Alliance for a New Democracy (ADN), headed by young politician Nicole Bouteau, managed to get 10.56 per cent of the votes and therefore gets two seats in the 57-seat house.

Taking into account the twenty seats within the Parliament (17 for Flosse's Tahoeraa Huiraatira, 2 for Temaru's UPLD and 1 for Bouteau's ADN) that were not affected by the by-election, the assembly's new makeup is 27 for Temaru's UPLD, 27 for Flosse's Tahoeraa Huiraatira and three seats for ADN.

Late last year, France's highest administrative body, the State Council had voided general election results for French Polynesia's most populated constituency, saying there had been grave irregularities.

Although tension was rife in the days leading to the by-elections, voting generally took place in a quiet and cheerful atmosphere with record participation of close to eighty percent.

Temaru's Union for Democracy coalition had secured a narrow victory in May 2004's general elections, but Temaru was ousted in a no-confidence motion early October last year, after one of his MPs switched sides.

Flosse came back a French Polynesia's President late October.

In the following weeks, Temaru supporters, who claimed their victory has been hijacked, has mounted blockades, preventing the returning Flosse administration to operate from government buildings.

They also marched to call on the French government to dissolve the legislative assembly and organise fresh general elections.

But this was denied, French minister for overseas Brigitte Girardin saying at the time that she believed French Polynesia's institutions were "functioning normally".

Talks held in November 2004 between Flosse and Temaru in Paris, fostered by Girardin, in order to find a "consensual" solution and a possible agreement on fresh general elections, had collapsed.

February 15, 2005

Oceania Flash: http://newspad-pacific.info/ 

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