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Replaces Oscar Temaru, who was elected president for fourth time

By Patrick Antoine Decloitre SUVA, Fiji (Oceania Flash, Feb. 13, 2009) – French Polynesia’s lawmakers have on Friday (Thursday Tahiti time, GMT-10) elected Edouard Fritch new Speaker of the House, in the wake of the election of pro-independence leader Oscar Temaru as President of the French Pacific territory.

Fritch, who is the co-President of historic pro-French Tahoeraa Huiraatira party, received the votes of 38 of the 57 members of parliament.

He replaces Temaru, who was the Speaker until his election at the top post on Thursday.

Fritch’s election is part of the new coalition agreement that brought Temaru to power this week.

The coalition consists of Temaru’s Union for Democracy (UPLD, 19 seats), former President Gaston Flosse’s Tahoeraa Huiraatira (9 seats) and Jean-Christophe Bouissou’s Rautahi party (which now seems to have the support of at least 9 MPs, some of whom recently defected the former ruling To Tatou Ai’a coalition of former President Gaston Tong Sang).

But more MPs seem to have deserted former President Tong Sang’s To Tatou Ai’a party: three of them have now officially defected to Tahoeraa Huiraatira (bringing its number of seats to 12), it was announced on Friday.

Fritch has been Speaker of the House on several occasions and more recently last year, under a brief Flosse government that was ousted in a motion of no confidence after less than two months in power.

After his election, Fritch once again stressed that the new parliamentary majority was the largest in French Polynesia in a very long time.

During the past five years, governments could only rely on paper-thin majorities, with, typically, not more than one or two more seats than the opposition, thus allowing small independent MPs to act as kingmakers by switching sides to shift the balance of power.

Fritch also reiterated that the new majority, with its strong base, intended to work on the French Pacific territory’s economic recovery.

On Thursday, after his election, Temaru made references to US President Barack Obama and went as far as claiming a resounding "Altogether we wan" in the House to illustrate his point that he alone could not success, and that he therefore needed the support of each and every MP.

Fritch, on Friday, in his maiden speech, assured Temaru of the new majority’s support, in keeping with the tripartite agreement that brought them both to power.

Temaru, 64, is now expected to announce a cabinet line-up next week.

"I will make sure that our House is neither stopping nor slowing down your government’s actions", Fritch told Temaru in front of the legislative assembly.

Since last year, mainly due to the political instability that has marred French Polynesia for the past five years, several key economic indicators and sectors have reached an all-time low.

This included the tourism industry, the black pearl farming industry, unemployment levels and investors’ confidence.

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