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French ruling party continues to hold sway

By Patrick Antoine Decloitre

SUVA, Fiji (Oceania Flash, March 17, 2008) – New Caledonia's municipal elections have seen no major upsets with the capital Nouméa remaining a French ruling party UMP stronghold and its incumbent Lord Mayor, Jean Lèques, securing his fifth consecutive term.

However, for the first time, Lèques, who has previously always been elected on the first round of vote with an absolute majority, has had to contest in a second round of vote on Sunday.

The other two major challengers were also from the pro-French camp, Sonia Lagarde (from the Avenir Ensemble -Future Together-) and Simon Loukehote (from the Rally for New Caledonia -RPC-).

Lèques, who was elected Nouméa Mayor for the first time in 1986, was the officially endorsed party for the Rassemblement-UMP, the local branch of the French ruling party UMP.

Lèques, on Sunday, secured 49.41 per cent of the votes, while Lagarde received 33.11 and Louekhote 17.47, figures from the French ministry of home affairs stated.

The 53-seat municipal council of New Caledonia's capital town will now reflect the proportions, with 40 seats for Rassemblement-UMP, 9 seats for Avenir Ensemble and 4 seats for RPC.

The confrontational scenario between Rassemblement-UMP and Future Together also occurred in several other municipalities of New Caledonia.

Depending on the local figures fronting their respective lists, the balance of power has in most cases remained in the hands of the incumbents.

In the Greater Nouméa area, some of New Caledonia's most populated municipalities, Rassemblement-UMP's Eric Gay, also a notorious figure in the sports and Olympic world, won an outright majority on the first round last week in the town of Mont-Dore, with 55.96 percent of the votes.

He takes over Pierre Frogier, the head of Rassemblement-UMP, who did not seek another mandate as Mayor of Mont-Dore.

Still in Nouméa's suburbs, in Dumbéa, incumbent Lord Mayor Bernard Marant lost to Rassemblement-UMP's Georges Naturel, who received 62.68 per cent of the votes while Marant could only secure 37.32.

In Païta, still in the Nouméa belt, Avenir Ensemble head and current President of the local government of New Caledonia, Harold Martin, collected 64.34 per cent of the votes at Sunday's second round.

Martin has been the Lord Mayor of Païta since 1995.

He came very closer to being elected on the first round, when last week he collected 49.4 per cent of the votes, 0.6 per cent short of an absolute majority.

Outside the Nouméa area, the relative surprise came from Bourail, one of the largest towns on the main island's Western coast, where Jean-Pierre (Taïeb) Aïfa managed to return at the helm of the rural municipality, scoring 38.80 per cent of the votes.

Aïfa, dubbed the "caliph", had previously been the Lord Mayor of Bourail for several consecutive terms.

He unseats outgoing Guy Moulin (Rassemblement-UMP).

In the North of New Caledonia's main island, another local figure, pro-independence's FLNKS (Kanak National Socialist Liberation Front) Paul Néaoutyine remains the Lord Mayor of Poindimié with 50.22 per cent of the votes.

And in La Foa, voters have chosen a woman to succeed outgoing Philippe Gomès, one of the founders of Avenir Ensemble who is also the President of the affluent Southern Province.

Mrs Corinne Voisin, also from Avenir Ensemble, won 60.3 per cent of the votes last week.

She becomes New Caledonia's second Lady Mayor.

The second round of municipal elections is also being held on Monday (Sunday Tahiti time, GMT-10) in French Polynesia.

While local incumbent personalities such as pro-independence Oscar Temaru, pro-French Gaston Tong Sang and Michel Buillard have obtained an absolute majority on the first round of vote last week for their respective municipalities of Faa'a, Bora Bora and the capital Pape'ete, voters still have to vote in a second round in dozens of municipalities.

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