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Papeete citizens demonstrate against political instability

PAPEÉTE, Tahiti (Tahitipresse, Nov. 22, 2009) - With the prospect of a ninth government change since 2004 this coming week, a crowd of some 100 people demonstrated peacefully Saturday against French Polynesia's political instability.

This was the first public demonstration since a no confidence motion aimed at toppling the current Temaru government was filed last Thursday.

At stake this coming week is the election of Tahiti's ninth government since 2004.

[PIR editor’s note: French Polynesia President Oscar Temaru is facing the latest in a series of ousters after political rival Gaston Tong Sang – who has held the presidency three times in the past three years – filed a motion of "no confidence" against him in parliament last week. The motion, to be voted on by members of parliament on Tuesday, will determine if the territory’s presidency changes hands once again. ]

Comments of "fiu", the Tahitian word for fed up, were frequently heard among the demonstrators, who gathered in the Bougainville Park next to Tahiti's main post office in Papeete. The size of the crowd was kept down by Saturday's rainy weather.

Although the turnout was small, the organizers, No Tou Fenua, which represents several civic associations, said other demonstrations were planned for Tuesday. That is when the French Polynesia Assembly is due to vote on the "no confidence" motion.

However, if there is not a quorum of 29 representatives present in the 57-seat assembly, the vote will be postponed until Wednesday, when all is required is the presence of a simple majority.

If the assembly approves toppling the nine-month-old Temaru government, Gaston Tong Sang would automatically become president of French Polynesia since he is named as the presidential candidate in the no confidence motion.

That would be the third time the assembly has elected Tong Sang Tahiti's president since December 2006. Oscar Temaru, who was first elected Tahiti's president in 2004, upsetting veteran politician Gaston Flosse, is serving as president for the fourth time since then.

Not including ministerial changes, Tahiti has changed governments eight times since 2004.

Flosse, Tahiti's president from 1984-2004, has briefly served twice as president since 2004. However, although still an assembly member, Flosse has been held in temporary detention in Tahiti's Nuutania Prison since Nov. 10 in connection with a French judicial investigation into embezzlement and corruption.

Flosse, indicted in the investigation on Sept. 30, is also one of Tahiti's two senators in the French Senate. However, the French Senate Office lifted his parliamentary immunity on Nov. 3, paving the way for his temporary imprisonment.

Flosse's imprisonment means he theoretically cannot vote on the no confidence motion this coming week. He definitely cannot vote by proxy, so that may mean there are 56, instead of the full 57, votes at stake in the assembly.

According to the latest estimates published in the local media, the pro-Tahiti autonomy motion of no confidence is backed by 32 potential votes, according to Tong Sang. However, that total includes Flosse, who theoretically cannot vote.

The three major groups reportedly backing the motion are Tong Sang's 13-seat To Tatou Ai'a group, the 10-seat Tahoera'a Huiraatira group led by Flosse's son-in-law, Edouard Fritch, and the six outer islanders from the Te Mana o Te Mau Motu group. There also are three seats filled by representatives unaffiliated with any assembly group, two of whom may support the motion.

Temaru's UPLD (Union for Democracy) Group represents 18 seats. Jean-Christophe Bouissou's Ia Ora Te Fenua group represents six seats. The estimated total, therefore, expected to vote against the motion is 24, or five short of the necessary minimum majority of 29 seats.

Meanwhile, the No Tou Fenua's various association presidents decided Saturday to form a steering committee to list and synchronize over the weekend various possible demonstrations next week.

The purpose, they said, is to tell elected officials of the prevailing public displeasure with the continued political instability in French Polynesia. They said they are considering showing up at the assembly Tuesday to vocally remind elected officials of "their sense of responsibility and solidarity".

A lobbying effort will be organized to contact each of the assembly members individually, the organizers said. They even raised the possibility of lodging a complaint involving the billions of French Pacific francs (dozens of millions of U.S. dollars/millions of euros) that the successive changes in government have cost the community.

There also was talk of preparing a signed petition to send to French President Nicolas Sarkozy, asking him to dissolve the French Polynesia Assembly so new elections could be held for the 57 seats.

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