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NOUMÉA, New Caledonia (Ocean Flash, March 27) - Votes from the French overseas territories and departments, including those from the Pacific's three dependencies of New Caledonia, French Polynesia and Wallis and Futuna, have always been regarded as crucial.

Votes from non-metropolitan French voters are believed to have the potential to make a difference in extremely tight scores between rival candidates.

In past weeks, all of the major candidates have either traveled to the French overseas or sent delegates or, in the case of the far-flung Pacific, conveyed video personalized messages.

In the French Pacific Chirac had enjoyed, over the past 25 years, a strong following through pro-French parties led by politicians also regarded as close to Chirac, Jacques Lafleur in New Caledonia and Gaston Flosse in French Polynesia.

Although both Lafleur and Flosse lost power three years ago, a strong fringe of the local political spectrum is still believed to support French UMP and therefore Sarkozy's bid for the top position.

In New Caledonia, the current political majority is dominated by the Avenir Ensemble (Future Together) party, which also includes mostly pro-UMP politicians.

In French Polynesia, after a two-year stint led by pro-independence Oscar Temaru, the new local President is Gaston Tong Sang, who belongs to Gaston Flosse's pro-French Tahoeraa Huiraatira.

Sarkozy, earlier this week, also sent an open letter to French Polynesians, saying he would visit French Polynesia in the month following his possible election as Head of State.

He also confirmed his commitment to maintaining French aid for French Polynesia.

The other major contender to the top post, Ségolène Royal (Socialist), has also in past weeks sent specific messages to French Polynesia where she has the open backing of Temaru's Union for Democracy (UPLD) former ruling party.

Last month, in an Internet-broadcast video message for French Polynesia, Royal pledged to introduce "a new form of partnership between France and French Polynesia."

Due to time difference with France, in French Polynesia (GMT-10), the poll will be held one day earlier than in France, on Saturdays April 21 and May 5.

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