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Qualifies for runoff election next week

PAPEETE, Tahiti (Tahitipresse, March 9, 2008) – Mahina Mayor Emile Vernaudon watched from his prison cell Sunday as his list of candidates came out on top, qualifying for a four-way runoff election next Sunday in his bid to be re-elected a fifth time.

Tahiti's north coast Commune of Mahina (pop. 8,683) is one of several communes facing runoff elections following Sunday's first round throughout the 48 communes of French Polynesia. This was the fifth time in less than a year that voters in French Polynesia have gone to the polls.

Vernaudon's list, one of eight in Sunday's first round, obtained 27.75 percent of the votes, running as part of the To Tatou Ai'a coalition of Gaston Tong Sang, the former French Polynesia president who is now opposition leader in the 57-seat French Polynesia Assembly.

The 64-year-old Vernaudon was remanded in custody on Dec. 4 in connection with a judicial investigation into the management of the French Polynesia Office des Postes et Télécommunications when he was OPT minister from 2005-2006.

He has divided his time between the Nuutania Prison and the hospital during the investigation into an alleged embezzlement of an estimated 114 million French Pacific francs (US$1.5 million/€955,318) in public funds.

Meanwhile, the three biggest winners in Sunday's first round of the municipal elections held every six years were Papeete Mayor Michel Buillard, Faa'a Mayor Oscar Temaru and Bora Bora Mayor Gaston Tong Sang. They were re-elected and will not face a runoff second round next Sunday.

Some contests produced close results Sunday. One example occurred in Tahiti's north coast Commune of Pirae (pop. 14,475), where incumbent Mayor Edouard Fritch finds himself in a three-way runoff next Sunday. One of his opponents is former Béatrice Vernaudon, whose list outpolled Fritch's. Fritch is a high-ranking official in Gaston Flosse's pro-France, pro-Tahiti autonomy Tahoera'a Huiraatira party. Ms. Vernaudon is a former official in that party, but is now part of Tong Sang's pro-France, pro-autonomy To Tatou Ai'a coalition.

For Papeete Mayor Buillard, 57, who recently resigned from Flosse's Tahoera'a Huiraatira party, this was his second re-election. His list obtained 57.87 percent of the vote, outpolling two other lists. The results were furnished by the French High Commission's office in Papeete.

Papeete (pop. 26,017) is the second most populated commune and the capital of French Polynesia (pop. 259,596).

One Papeete list of candidates, headed up by James Salmon of Temaru's Union for Democracy (UPLD) coalition, obtained 31.09 percent of the votes. The only other list, that of Thomas Teriiteporouarai, an RFO-Télé-Polynésie journalist and member of Flosse's party, obtained 11.04 percent of the votes.

In Faa'a (pop. 29,851), the most populated of French Polynesia's 48 communes, Temaru, leader of Tahiti's biggest pro-independence party, the Tavini Huiraatira, won his sixth term as mayor.

Facing three other lists of candidates, Temaru's list obtained 65.19 percent of the votes. That was far ahead of Jean-Christophe Bouissou's To Tatou Ai'a coalition list, which obtained 31.41 percent of the votes.

On Bora Bora (pop. 8,927) in the Leeward Islands, Tong Sang, 58, who has been mayor since 1989, was re-elected Sunday as head of a list that obtained 61.02 percent of the votes. One of his main opponents was Jacky Bryant, leader of the Green party and part of Temaru's UPLD coalition. Bryant's list obtained 18.52 percent of the votes on Bora Bora.

A UPLD list of candidates running for election on Bora Bora obtained 16.22 percent of the votes, according to results furnished by the Commune of Bora Bora.

In Pirae, Fritch's list of candidates finished second with 36 percent of the votes. Ms. Vernaudon led the field of five lists with 46.8 percent of the votes, heading up Tong Sang's To Tatou Ai'a coalition list. Pierre Frébault's UPLD list finished third with 12.2 percent of the votes.

Elsewhere on the island of Tahiti:

--The west coast Commune of Punaauia (pop. 25,441): the first assistant mayor headed up a candidate list that outpolled the list of the incumbent mayor. Ruben Teremate's To Tatou Ai'a supported list obtained 43.02 percent of the votes. The list headed up by 74-year-old Jacques Vii, the mayor since 1977, obtained only 18.93 percent of the votes. They will be in a four-way runoff election next Sunday.

--The south coast Commune of Papara (pop. 10,615: Incumbent Mayor Bruno Sandras running for re-election the first time is in a favorable runoff position for the second round with 44.35 percent of the votes. He faces UPLD candidate Michel Snow (24.98 percent of the vote) and Eugène Bessert (11.5 percent of the vote). Although a member of Flosse's Tahoera'a party and one of Tahiti's two UMP deputies in the French National Assembly, Sandras' municipal campaign showed no sign of the Tahoera'a party's orange color. Instead Sandras used the colors of the commune—a dark green and yellow.

--In the north coast Commune of Arue (pop. 9,458): Incumbent Mayor Philip Schyle running for election the first time leads two other candidates going into the second round. Schyle, the head of one of seven lists of candidates, obtained 40.23 percent of the vote as the head of a list affiliated with Tong Sang's To Tatou Ai'a coalition. Schyle became mayor in 2002 when he replaced Boris Léontieff, who disappeared aboard a small plane while campaigning in the Tuamotu Archipelago for a French Polynesia Assembly election. Joining Schyle in next Sunday's runoff are Tahoera'a party candidate Teura Iriti (25.44 percent of the vote) and UPLD candidate Yolande Bennett 18.65 percent of the vote).

--In the south coast Commune of Paea (pop. 12,084): Incumbent Mayor Jacquie Graffe running for a post he's held since 1975 came out on top among six lists of candidates. He obtained 39.94 percent of the vote, while UPLD candidate Antony Géros obtained 39.02 percent.

In the Leeward Islands:

--In Uturoa, the main city on the island of Raiatea (pop. 3,778): Incumbent Mayor Philippe Brotherson seeking his seventh victory since 1969 is in a close runoff situation next Sunday with two other candidate lists out of a total of four lists. However, Brotherson, who turns 79 on April 4, headed a list that finished in second place with 29.37 percent of the votes behind a candidate list from Tong Sang's coalition that obtained 35.07 percent of the votes, but ahead of a third candidate list that obtained 22.56 percent of the votes.

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