FRENCH POLYNESIAN ELECTIONS SET FOR JANUARY

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By Patrick Antoine Decloitre

SUVA, Fiji (Oceania Flash, Nov. 1) – French Secretary of State for Overseas Christian Estrosi has confirmed that snap general elections would be held in two rounds, beginning January 27, 2008.

The second round of voting is likely to take place two weeks later, on February 10.

"In no case will I change course. Yes, at the end of January, after all the stages of consultation and democracy have been completed, the (French) Polynesians will be able to one again decide for themselves about their future and their own destiny", Estrosi said during speech during a function at the French High Commissioner's residence on Tuesday (Monday Tahiti time, GMT-10), with over three thousand guests in attendance.

Earlier this week, Estrosi addressed French Polynesia's legislative assembly in similar terms to justify his plans for electoral reforms and snap elections for the French Pacific territory.

Meanwhile, French MPs in the National Assembly (lower house) are to initiate the debate on Estrosi's Bills on November 22, French media reported on Thursday.

The Bill is scheduled to be tabled for the first time before the French Senate (Upper House) on November 12 and before the French National Assembly (Lower House) by the end of November 2007.

Estrosi tabled two Bills before the French cabinet, which endorsed the move on Thursday last week.

The Bills aim at "strengthening the stability" of French Polynesia's territorial assembly.

One of the Bills takes the shape of an organic law and plans to address the recurring issue of motions of no confidence.

The text introduces the notion of a "constructive defiance motion" and places a emphasis on increasing "transparency" in local political life.

Constant changes of governments and motions of no confidence have marred French Polynesia's political life for the past three years.

The Bill would also reduce the term of French Polynesia's local legislative assembly and trigger snap elections, late January 2008.

French Polynesia's legislative assembly, last month, passed a motion opposing the Bill, by a majority of 44 of the 57 MPs.

The harshest opponents to the Bill, on the local scene, are denouncing what they see as direct "interference" from Paris in local political affairs.

Since newly-elected French President Nicolas Sarkozy appointed him in June 2007, Estrosi has embraced a hands-on approach to address a perceived spate of ongoing political instability in French Polynesia, for the past three years, which has already seen six Presidents come and go during that period, all of them ousted by way of motions of no confidence.

After talks held in Paris three weeks ago with French President Nicolas Sarkozy, French Polynesia's President Oscar Temaru said he was slightly disappointed with this calendar, but however "respected" Sarkozy's decision.

Temaru however said he was thankful to the French Head of State for being straightforward and "clear".

"Elections will be organised rapidly, that is to say at the end of January", Sarkozy's spokesman David Martinon told reporters last month.

Martinon added the French President wished to initiate "a new mode of relationship" with the French overseas leaders, "including those from French Polynesia".

"He wishes for frank, loyal and non-partisan relations. It is in the name of this rule of conduct that the President of the Republic will entertain constructive relations with the government that will emerge from the next elections, regardless of its political orientation"

The spokesman also said that Sarkozy's first official visit to French Polynesia, which was initially announced for late October or early November, was still on "in the near future", but would now probably happen "at the beginning of next year" and most probably after French Polynesia's early general elections.

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