TEMARU BACK AT HELM OF FRENCH POLYNESIA

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Vote ousts Tong Sang, gives Temaru 5th term in 7 years

By Patrick Antoine Decloitre SUVA, Fiji (Oceania Flash, April 2, 2011) – Pro-independence French Polynesian leader Oscar Temaru has returned to the helm of the French Pacific territory after a motion was passed on Saturday (Friday Tahiti time, GMT-10) at the Legislative assembly, ousting President Gaston Tong Sang.

29 of the 57 members of parliament supported the motion of no confidence, which also contained the name of Temaru as the designated President and head of the Union for Democracy (UPLD).

The support came from UPLD and a handful of MPs from the outer islands, who have been, over the past five years, a reliable reserve of loose and switching votes.

Tong Sang’s party, the To Tatou Ai’a and the former ruling party of Gaston Flosse, the Tahoeraa Huiraatira, did not support the ouster motion.

Others simply left the Chamber before the vote began, local media reported.

Tong Sang’s government came into place fifteen months ago, but had lost a clear majority and had been potentially fragile and exposed to ouster moves over the past few months.

Speaking after his election, Temaru said one of the objectives of his government would be to put back on the agenda the question of self-determination for French Polynesia in order to achieve a "sovereign State".

The other pillar of his action would be based on moves to restore a fledging economy, already badly affecter by over five years of chronic instability due to regular changes of governments caused by shifts in alliances and subsequent votes of no confidence motions.

A draft paper is currently under consideration in Paris with the aim of revamping French Polynesia’s electoral system in order to achieve clearer majorities in future.

Temaru has already been President of French four times over the past seven years.

Since 2004, over twelve governments have come to power and later fell due to motions of no confidence.

After his election, he said he was open to talks with other parties willing to join his camp.

On the economic front, stakeholder have once again expressed earlier this week their grave concerns regarding the negative impacts of the political instability on the business confidence climate.

"We are thinking about lost jobs, businesses closing down and eventually, French Polynesia’s citizens who are subjected to this merry-go-round for all too long", a statement from the CGPME (General confederation of Small and Medium Businesses) said.

Ten days ago, French Polynesia’s rating by the Standard and Poor's agency was revised from BBB- to BB+, a marking which, the agency said, reflected "the new institutional and political crisis faced by French Polynesia".

The current situation "did not allow the efficient implementation of important structural reforms (prompted by the French government)", a statement went on to say.

Another factor was the recent budget crisis which had ended with the vote of a truncated 2011 appropriation bill that has now been placed at the centre of a legal dispute.

Recent reports from local economic institutes confirmed that for the last quarter 2010, French Polynesia’s economy was considered as being stuck in second gear, with such features as business results and investment capacity, household consumption, employment, the construction sector and tourism arrivals all performing poorly.

Paris unveils fresh plan for French Polynesia’s electoral system

Mid-March 2011, the French government unveiled yet another reform plan in order to "stabilise" French Polynesia’s volatile political grounds, including changes to the maximum number of ministers and a 33 percent "bonus" for any first-past-the post party.

French minister for Overseas countries and territories, Marie-Luce Penchard, conveyed the new document, in the form of a draft, to French Polynesia’s authorities.

The move comes as French Polynesia has entered a period of chronic instability since the 2004 general elections, with a dozen governments voted in and out since by a volatile Parliament when no majorities exists any longer and where political changes mostly result from circumstantial changes of alliances within parties from across the spectrum, pro-France and pro-independence included.

In the metropolitan French plan, concocted by experts who have visited French Polynesia in recent months and have already handed out reports on the French Pacific territory’s situation, it is envisaged, the electoral reform plan would take the shape of an "organic law".

It could be tabled before the French cabinet and later submitted to the vote of French Parliament’s both Houses (the National Assembly -lower House- and the Senate) sometime during 2011, after a consultation phase with French Polynesian parties.

Under the plan, the local assembly and therefore the number of constituencies would be maintained at 57, but the number of cabinet ministers would be limited to seven.

Under the same scheme, any party that obtains most seats, first past the post, would be credited by an electoral "bonus" of 33 percent of the number of seats within the new Assembly (which means nineteen of the 57 seats).

The system, which was used before, was aimed a "stabilising" election results by accentuating election results and their repercussions in the makeup of the new Parliament.

It was also proposed that the much sought-after position of President (Speaker of the local Assembly) would be for not less than five years, regardless of changes of government.

This was perceived as a way of withdrawing the Speaker’s position from any future negotiations between parties seeking to oust a government.

The very popular process of tabling a motion of no confidence was also part of the reform, with, under the new proposed rules, a minimum of three thirds of the 57 local MPs required in support, as opposed to 29 MPs under the present rules.

Another mechanism introduced in the new text was the fact that only parties that would have obtained a minimum of 12.5 percent at the first round of vote would be eligible to run during the second round.

Heralding the plan to seriously reform French Polynesia’s electoral system in order to put an end to the current chronic instability, French President Nicolas Sarkozy, on several occasions, referred to the situation there as a "vast comedy" that could not last indefinitely.

The situation has also had adverse effects on the local economy, including the tourism industry, as well as investors’ confidence, prompting repeated expressions of deep concern from economic and social sectors stakeholders.

The effects have been gravely compounded by the global financial crisis.

"Vast comedy": Sarkozy

Sarkozy’s speech early this year for his 2011 "wishes" did not come as a surprise: at the very same occasion, the year before, in January 2010, he had already lashed out at what he termed French Polynesia’s "vast comedy" in terms of political instability while at the same time announcing electoral and institutional reforms to put an end to this situation.

The reforms were first supposed to be carried out "some time this year (2010)"… to "guarantee more stability to elected majorities".

Sarkozy however acknowledged that similar reforms had been implemented in French Polynesia in recent years, including one in 2007.

But none of these had really produced the desired "stabilising" effects.

"In spite of several reforms, French Polynesia has not yet been able to find the political stability it aspires to", he said at the time.

Since 2004, which marked the end of an era of almost twenty years of undisputed rule by former President Gaston Flosse, French Polynesia has seen close to ten changes in governments.

The changes, most of the time, occurred as a result of sudden changes in alliances between small parties and the larger ones, with nearly every possible combination over a span of six years.

"(French) Polynesia deserves serious elected leaders and not a vast comedy where enemies of yesterday become the allies of today", Sarkozy already stressed as early as January 2010.

"At a time when everyone should mobilise their energy to face the current crisis, this chronic instability is intolerable for those (French) Polynesians who are suffering. I will therefore initiate this year a reform of the electoral system and of the institutional mechanisms in order to guarantee more stability to elected majorities and therefore to give more capacity to envisage political and public actions in the long term", he said.

During the same January speech, in 2010 and again this year in 2011, Sarkozy also made repeated calls on all French overseas communities to "take charge of their own economic destiny" by generating their own economic self-reliance, instead of relying on a hand-out policy by way of subsidies from the French government.

 

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