French Polynesia leadership remains tenuous

PAPEÉTE, Tahiti (Tahitipresse, April 17, 2008) - After occupying the building for only 53 days, Gaston Flosse turned over the French Polynesia presidency to Gaston Tong Sang Wednesday morning, 24 hours after the French Polynesia Assembly adopted a motion of no confidence by one vote.

Flosse, the 76-year-old doyen of Tahitian politics, greeted Tong Sang at the entrance steps to the presidency. The two now rival politicians who previously belonged to the same pro-France, pro-Tahiti autonomy party then retired to the president’s office. They discussed current dossiers and the current political situation.

A short while later, Tong Sang told the media that his talks with Flosse had been "very friendly, very frank." It pleased me very much. He told me important things about the ‘country.’

"He was sensitive to the message that I launched yesterday, that message of overture," Tong Sang said. He was referring to his speech moments after winning a 29-0 vote of approval in the 57-seat assembly. During that speech, he made an overture to both Flosse’s political party and Assembly Speaker Oscar Temaru’s mostly pro-Tahiti independence coalition.

Tong Sang summarized his Wednesday meeting with Flosse by telling the news media, "So I was content this morning to see that the message has been heard. This desire, this willingness to want to calm the political game is real."

Asked about his current relations with his former partly still led by Flosse, the Tahoera’a Huiraatira, Tong Sang said, "We will see in coming days. The most important thing is that the (overture) message has been heard."

Another important question on the news media’s minds Wednesday was when Tong Sang plans to announce the maximum 15 ministers in his new government. By law he is given five days after his election as president to form a new government. Tong Sang would only say Wednesday, "I’m going to begin discussions."

Flosse and Tong Sang are now even, each having been twice elected in the assembly to serve as French Polynesia president since 2004. Flosse served for slightly more than four months from October 5, 2004 to February 18, 2005 and then from February 23, 2007 to April 15. Tong Sang’s first tour as president was from December 26, 2006 to August 31, 2007, or five days shy of eight months.

Normally, a president serves for five years, but since 2004 the post of president has changed hands six times. Temaru has been elected three times, Flosse twice and now Tong Sang twice. The longest time any president has served since 2004 has been nearly two years -- slightly more than 22 months to be exact. That was Temaru’s second tour as president, from February 18, 2005 to December 26, 2007.

During a brief speech after the official changeover in presidents on Wednesday, Tong Sang outlined his planned government program and priorities.

"The affront to democracy on February 23 has been cleared," he said, referring to Flosse’s election as president after having won only 10 seats during the general elections earlier this year for the 57 assembly seats. Tong Sang’s To Tatou Ai’a coalition obtained 27 seats and Temaru’s coalition won 20 seats. On February 23, Flosse and Temaru formed an historic political alliance with control of 29 seats.

"I am conscious at this moment of becoming president of all (French) Polynesians," Tong Sang said Wednesday.

"Our program is ambitious. At the earliest, I will request a meeting with the (French) high commissioner to resume normal, confident and peaceful relations with the (French) state," Tong Sang said. He added that he also would quickly be meeting with other government officials, employer groups and labor unions.

"Most important are the return of the confidence of investors, the lifeblood of the ‘country’," he said. "Since 2004, they have lived through a succession of political upheaval incompatible with economic realities. A new way of governing French Polynesia will be inspired from this building. Naturally, I will be the guarantor," Tong Sang said.

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