NEW CALEDONIA ANTI-INDEPENDENCE LEADER FORMS NEW PARTY

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NOUMEA, New Caledonia (Oceania Flash, Aug. 2)—New Caledonia's former anti-independence ruler Jacques Lafleur, has last week announced he would launch his own party, the Rassemblement pour la Calédonie (RPC), in a bid to come back at the fore of the local political scene.

Lafleur was the founder of the RPCR (Rally for New Caledonia within the French Republic), a party he set up in the late 1970s.

RPCR, for the past quarter of a century, has ruled New Caledonia.

But in May 2004, local elections saw its defeat for the first to a newly-created "Avenir Ensemble" (Future Together) coalition, mostly made up of disgruntled former RPCR members.

Within RPCR (which was later renamed "Rassemblement-UMP", in direct reference to France's current ruling UMP party), a leadership struggle, last year, saw Lafleur ousted by the man he once saw as his political heir, Pierre Frogier.

Rassemblement-UMP, Lafleur's new RPC and even a large proportion of Avenir Ensemble leaders, including its President Harold Martin, all claim their allegiance to metropolitan France's UMP.

The claims come nine months ahead of France's presidential elections.

But New Caledonia's anti-independence parties are still struggling to iron out past feuds and differences, even though they are bound, under the 1998 Nouméa Accord, to rule together under a "collegial", representative form of local government.

RECONCILIATION ATTEMPTS IN THE ANTI-INDEPENDENCE "FAMILY"

For the past few months, Avenir Ensemble and Rassemblement-UMP have been attempting to iron out their differences, ahead of the French Presidential election next year.

The moves, on New Caledonia's local political arena, have been strongly encouraged from Paris by UMP's current President and French minister for Home Affairs, Nicolas Sarkozy, as both Avenir Ensemble and Rassemblement-UMP claim their allegiance to the French ruling party.

Sarkozy has already declared himself a candidate for next year's Presidential elections.

During a recent meeting over lunch, organised in Paris earlier this month between Avenir Ensemble and Rassemblement-UMP's respective leaders, Harold Martin and Pierre Frogier, a further rapprochement was discussed and close to being officialised.

"Nicolas Sarkozy was to unite the UMP family in New Caledonia so that we can support him during the Presidential election. This is not new, he has said so on many occasions since 2004. We are going long this request, because we believe the French Presidential election is a major stake for France in general and for New Caledonia in particular", Martin told local media last week.

"However, this does not mean that there would be a merger (between Avenir Ensemble and Rassemblement-UMP) and there will be no compromise. Each party sticks to its beliefs. And Sarkozy's statements urging Rassemblement to be more constructive on the local scene instead of just being an opposition force seem to point to the same direction. What we wish is to have better relations with Rassemblement. And also to learn to work together again, because this is in the interest of New Caledonia", Martin said.

But other members of the Avenir Ensemble coalition, like Economy minister Didier Leroux (who, on the French political spectrum, belongs to the centre-right UDF party), expressed concerns that this apparent reconciliation between Avenir Ensemble and Rassemblement could also leave many coalition members with an aftertaste of betrayal.

"I'm not UMP, so I don't feel this concerns me. I'm just wondering who will be the cuckold in this whole story. I'll just make sure it's not me", he told reporters this week.

Last week, Harold Martin has been re-elected at the Chair of the French Pacific country's Congress (Parliament).

Under the present makeup of the Congress (which itself emanates from the makeup of New Caledonia's three principal assemblies -North, South and Loyalty Islands-) Avenir Ensemble enjoys a slim majority, while Rassemblement still remains the main opposition force.

On Friday last week, during the election of the Congress's Bureau for the 2006-2007 period, Martin obtained 22 of the 54 votes after three rounds of votes.

24 others were blank and eight other elected members abstained, the Congress said in a release.

As part of the Congress Bureau's election, apart from the position of President (Speaker), eight Vice-Presidents were also elected.

They are, from first to eighth Vice-President respectively, Isabelle Ohlen (Avenir Ensemble), Pierre Maresca (Rassemblement-UMP), Réginald Bernut (Avenir Ensemble), Jean-Pierre Djaiwe (UNI - FLNKS, Kanak Socialist National Liberation Front), Bernard Lepeu (UC, Union Calédonienne), Armande Duraisin (Avenir Ensemble), M.K. Case (Rassemblement-UMP) and René Kotereu (Avenir Ensemble).

August 3, 2006

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