FRENCH ASSEMBLY OKS TAHITI ELECTORAL REFORM BILL

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PAPEETE, Tahiti (Tahitipresse, Jan. 24) – The French National Assembly gave its approval Wednesday to the electoral reform measure requested by French Polynesia Government President Gaston Tong Sang. The measure now goes to the French Senate, where quick approval is expected after examination by a joint committee of assembly deputies and senators.

The reform would eliminate the controversial majority bonus of 13 out of the 57- French Polynesia Assembly seats being awarded to the list of general election candidates receiving the most popular votes. The majority bonus has been in effect since 2004 and was used following the May 23, 2004 general election and the Feb. 13, 2005 by-election for the 37 Windward Islands seats.

Under the reform measure, the electoral system would return to what it was before 2004 when the French Parliament approved a modification of the statute governing relations between France and French Polynesia, an overseas French territory.

Under the pre-2004 system, a list of candidates must obtain a minimum of 5 percent of the popular vote in order to participate in the proportional distribution of the 57 assembly seats following the election.

The reform was contained in an amendment introduced by National Assembly Deputy/Papeete Mayor Michel Buillard. The amendment became part of two proposed legislative changes for French overseas possessions.

Tong Sang led a delegation of French Polynesia Assembly majority coalition partners to Paris last week to campaign among French government and political leaders for support of the electoral reform.

Tahiti's two deputies, Buillard and Béatrice Vernaudon, spoke in favor of the Buillard amendment during Wednesday's National Assembly debate. Buillard said the majority bonus "had led to major upheavals" in French Polynesia, where there have been four different governments, four censure motions and three different government presidents since the May 23, 2004 general election.

Buillard said the majority bonus had "accentuated the polarization of political life between pro-autonomy and pro-independence politicians". In a reference to Tong Sang, who was elected government president by the French Polynesia Assembly on Dec. 26, Buillard said, "Today a new dynamic is under way, which inaugurates a new governing in a spirit of assembly, pluralism, respect of institutions and keeping one's word."

Ms. Vernaudon, who appears to be on the political outs with the pro-France, pro-autonomy party of Tong Sang and Buillard, told the National Assembly, "(French) Polynesia is in its fourth government in less than two years. In everyone's opinion, this instability finds its cause in the majority bonus system," said Ms. Vernaudon, who called for realigning the two electoral districts in French Polynesia.

Victorin Lurel, national secretary for the French Socialist party overseas and deputy from Guadeloupe, said there was no question of allowing the Flosse majority to exploit the French Parliament, Agence France-Presse reported.

That was a reference to former long-time French Polynesia Government President Gaston Flosse, who is leader of the Tahoeraa Huiraatira (People's Rally for the Republic of Polynesia) political party that includes Tong Sang and Buillard. Ms. Vernaudon had the backing of this party when she was elected National Assembly deputy in 2002.

Ironically, the majority bonus that has become so controversial since 2004 was originally proposed by Flosse when Tahiti's statute was modified. Flosse today is a member of the French Senate.

UDF (Union for French Democracy) Deputy Jean-Christophe Lagarde regretted that the UMP (Union for a Popular Movement) party of French President Jacques Chirac had "lent a helping hand" when French Polynesia's electoral system was changed to include the majority bonus. Lagarde said he also was surprised that the French Socialists who were defeated when they opposed Flosse's maneuver in 2004 are quibbling today over how to keep the majority bonus.

Lagarde claimed that it was former independence party leader Oscar Temaru who ended up wanting to leave Tahiti's electoral system unchanged because he found the majority bonus more favorable for him. Temaru's government was toppled by a vote of no confidence on Dec. 13.

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