NEW CALEDONIA ELECTION HIGHLIGHTS FACTIONALISM

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Anti-independence parties call for unity

SUVA, Fiji (Oceania Flash, May 15, 2009) – New Caledonia’s pro-French Rassemblement-IMP party leader Pierre Frogier was on Friday elected chairman of the French Pacific territory’s 40-seat affluent Southern province.

Frogier received 34 of the 40 votes, an indication that most pro-French parties (his own Rassemblement-UMP, but also incumbent local government President Harold Martin’s Avenir Ensemble and outgoing Southern Province President Philippe Gomès’s Calédonie Ensemble) have supported the choice and have struck what had locally been referred to as a "a pact of unity and stability" among pro-French and therefore anti-independence parties.

The other candidates at the helm of the Southern Province, pro-independence FLNKS’s Roch Wamytan and pro-French and former long-time ruler Jacques Lafleur, obtained respectively four and two votes.

The election came as a direct result of last Sunday’s provincial elections, which saw pro-French parties retain their stronghold on the Southern province, but split along party lines.

In the Southern province, Rassemblement UMP gets 15 seats, Calédonie Ensemble 11, Avenir Ensemble 8, FLNKS 4 and RPC 2.

In the former legislature, there was no pro-independence representation in the Southern Province.

On Friday also, the other to provinces of New Caledonia (North and Loyalty Islands) have elected their incumbent Presidents for another term.

In the 22-seat Northern Province, veteran pro-independence politician Paul Néaoutyine (from the UNI platform) got most votes in his favour.

The Sunday provincial poll confirmed a definite pro-independence stronghold, with the three leading parties representing this camp: UNI (9 seats), Union Calédonienne/FLNKS (8), Labour (3).

Rassemblement UMP gets one seat and so does a minor party, Une Province pour Tous (One Province for All).

In the Loyalty Islands province (14 seats), where pro-independence parties Uc/Flnks, UNI-FLNKS, Labour and Dynamique Autochtone got respectively 6, 4, 2 and 2 seats on Sunday, incumbent President and UC party leader Hnékoné Peun was also confirmed with eight of the fourteen votes in his favour.

The next step in New Caledonia’s governance and executive renewal exercise is scheduled to take place on Friday 22 May, when the Congress of New Caledonia is to meet and elect the members of the local government.

This government, in turn, is itself supposed to reflect according to New Caledonia’s compulsory multiparty provisions.

The Congress that came out of Sunday May 10 provincial elections, reflect the makeup of New Caledonia’s three provinces (North, South and Loyalty Islands).

But results from the Sunday elections showed that although parties opposed to independence retained a relative majority in the 54-member House, they were split between at least three major parties: Pierre Frogier’s Rassemblement-UMP (officially backed by France’s ruling UMP party), incumbent Southern Province President Philippe Gomès’s newly-formed Calédonie Ensemble and incumbent New Caledonia government President Harold Martin’s Avenir Ensemble (Future Together).

Former undisputed ruler of New Caledonia, Jacques Lafleur, who was evicted after the election of May 2004, has also managed to return to return to the political arena with a representation of two seats for his RPC (Rassemblement pour la Calédonie).

While the addition of all the pro-French seats totals 34 of the 54 seats in the new House, the main concern, expressed earlier this week by most leaders, was to see a increased fragmentation of the votes, including for the election of a proportionally representative and power-sharing executive for New Caledonia.

Call to avoid Tahiti-style situation

Hours after results from the Sunday elections became clear, Harold Martin, speaking at a press conference, made a public call for all anti-independence parties to come together, possible by way of a "stability pact".

This, Martin said, was mainly to avoid what he termed a "Tahiti-style" situation, where, in this other French Pacific dependency, governments have been constantly toppled by way of motions of no confidence and ongoing party-hopping.

This resulted in a total of close to ten successive governments and Presidents over the past five years in French Polynesia.

Martin told local media he believed if the desired pro-French pact did not eventuate, then "all conditions were met for a Tahiti-style situation to set in".

"If our (political) family does not remain united, then Congress and government call fall into the hands of the pro-independence camp", he cautioned.

He said some of the pillars of the anti-independence pact would be to treat any alliance with pro-independence parties as an absolute no go zone in order to bring out a stable pro-French majority.

Reacting to Martin’s comment, both Frogier and Gomès have agreed on the principle of such pact, but have also stressed that their respective parties’ representation within the next government should also be taken into account, proportionally to their number of seats in the Congress.

The other explicit objective of such pact was also to avoid presenting a divided front when French President Nicolas Sarkozy visits New Caledonia late July this year.

French satisfaction

Meanwhile, reacting from Paris, French minister of home affaires and overseas, Michèle Alliot-Marie, hailed the "smooth running"’ of Sunday’s elections, adding the poll marked an "important milestone in New Caledonia’s emancipation process, as defined under the 1998 Nouméa Accord.

The Accord was signed in May 1998 between pro-French and pro-independence parties locally, as well as the French government.

It has since provided a blueprint for New Caledonia’s gradual autonomy process, with a scheduled transfer of powers from metropolitan France to local authorities and the prospect of a referendum on self-determination some time between 2014 and 2018.

"I wish that New Caledonians and the responsible political forces that represent them carry on with the dialogue, in order to consolidate the results of these elections under the same desire for stability and progress for New Caledonia"’, Alliot-Marie’s office said in a statement on Monday.

Domino effect

On Sunday, some 135,00 registered voters went to the polls to renew the 76 members of New Caledonia’s three provincial assemblies (North [22], South [40] and Loyalty Islands [14]) for another five-year mandate.

As part of a proportional representation ripple effect mechanism enshrined in New Caledonia’s institutions, the new makeup of the three provinces dictates the makeup of the 54-member Congress, which is to contain 32 MPs from the southern provincial assembly, 15 MPs from the Northern one and 7 from the Loyalty Islands.

The new Congress is then scheduled to hold its inaugural session, as a result of the provincial elections, on May 22.

Still as part of this domino effect, the Congress will then have to choose the members of New Caledonia’s government within 21 days, not later than June 12.

The final step of the parliamentary and government repercussions of the May 10 vote will be for the local executive government members to choose their President and Vice-President, before June 17.

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