TAHITI’S NEW PRESIDENT ALREADY LOSING SUPPORT

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TAHITI’S NEW PRESIDENT ALREADY LOSING SUPPORT

PAPEETE, Tahiti (Tahitipresse, Dec. 30) – Tahiti's new president appears to have lost one vote in the French Polynesia Assembly only three days after taking office as rebel politician Hiro Tefaarere announced he is quitting the pro-autonomy platform.

French Polynesia President Gaston Tong Sang took over from ousted President Oscar Temaru on Tuesday with a 31-26 vote in the Assembly. But Tefaarere's stormy reaction to the role four outer islands politicians played in the distribution of ministerial posts announced Friday appears to be only the first of two problems for Tong Sang.

The second problem, reported in Saturday's French language daily newspaper Les Nouvelles de Tahiti, has been created by Mautaina Taki, who is due to replace Tong Sang's vice president, Temauri Foster, in the Assembly.

What sounds simple only becomes complicated when Tahitian politics are subjected to a magnifying glass. When Foster served as minister in the Temaru government topped on Dec. 13, Ms. Taki took his Assembly seat with Temaru's UPLD (Union for Democracy) majority coalition. When the opposition initially threatened earlier this year to get a vote of no confidence passed in the Assembly, Foster had to resign his Temaru government ministerial post to return to his seat in the Assembly to give the UPLD what could have been a critical vote.

Ms. Taki was the reason for the Foster maneuver because she was N° 2 on Foster's electoral list of candidates in the May 23, 2004 general election for the 57 Assembly seats. And, complicating things even further, that 2004 electoral list was in support of Tong Sang's party, Tahoeraa Huiraatira (People's Rally for the Republic of Polynesia), led by former French Polynesia President Gaston Flosse.

Now that Tong Sang has made Foster VP, Ms. Taki, mayor on the Tuamotu atoll of Napuka, once again must replace Foster in the Assembly. But when Les Nouvelles talked with Ms. Taki Friday afternoon, she was uncertain whether she would take up her Assembly seat in the Tong Sang governing coalition or in the Temaru opposition coalition. She said she would consult her town council members over the long New Year's weekend.

If she takes up her seat with Tong Sang's Tahoeraa party, that will give the party 23 seats. Adding five other platform seats would give Tong Sang 28 votes. Two swing votes are held by two members of the Fetia Api (The New Star) party—Assembly Speaker Philip Schyle and Thilda Fuller. They both voted for the censure motion against the Temaru government and for Tong Sang's election as president. So at best, if Tefaarere goes through with his threat to not only leave the platform but also to quit his recently adopted political party, Tong Sang could end up with 30 votes instead of Tuesday's 31 votes, leaving the Temaru opposition with 26 votes.

But if Ms. Taki chooses to join the ranks of the opposition, Tong Sang could count on at least 27 votes, two short of a minimum one- vote absolute majority. At best, he could end up with 29 votes for the same one-vote majority that plagued Temaru during most of his presidency.

But that assumes Schyle and Fuller will vote with the governing coalition. The 29-vote scenario would leave three potential unaffiliated votes— those of Schyle and Fuller and Tefaarere--each time a vote is required in the Assembly.

As along as the 29 and 27 respective coalition members remained faithful, the three votes would not serve as swing votes.

But politics in Tahiti over the past two years have added a new definition to the word "faithful". Tefaarere, for example, has played all over French Polynesia's political field since the May 23, 2004 general election. He won his seat in the Leeward Islands as the head of a list of candidates for Temaru's independence political party.

During the past two years, Tefaarere has served as a transition speaker in the Assembly and a minister in one of Temaru's two governments. When he and Emile Vernaudon had a falling out with Temaru, they both left the then Temaru majority coalition to return to the Assembly. Tefaarere became secretary-general in Vernaudon's pro-France, pro- Tahiti autonomy party Ai'a Api (New Fatherland), taking the place of Giles Tefaatau, who chose to remain Temaru's housing and land affairs minister.

When Tong Sang put together a platform of four pro-France, pro-Tahiti autonomy parties to topple the Temaru government, Tefaarere was a member of Vernaudon's party. But apparently watching Foster become vice president in Tong Sang's government and three other outer islanders obtain ministerial posts, while Vernaudon's party received only two ministerial posts was more than Tefaarere could bear. He began threatening to disrupt the Tong Sang coalition Thursday on the eve of the new president's announcement of who his ministers would be.

Tefaarere called for sanctions against Foster and Michel Yip for allowing themselves to be filmed by a local television station as they visited the offices they would occupy the next day after Tong Sang announced their appointments. Yip was named Friday as minister of Tahiti's postal system, electronic communications and perliculture, or Tahitian cultured pearl farming.

The newspaper Les Nouvelles de Tahiti, headlined its inside story Saturday "Hiro the Terrible Leaves the Platform". But since Tefaarere has also threatened to quit the Ai'a Api party, he has become a problem for Vernaudon as well as Tong Sang. he has become a problem for Vernaudon as well as Tong Sang.

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