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  • French Polynesia
  • Lorenz Gonschor (bio)

Events in French Polynesia in the period under review were essentially characterized by political upheaval and unrest, with an elected government ousted in a "legal coup," only to return after another by-election. The country experienced a period of instability but also an unprecedented mobilization of peaceful popular protest, culminating in the largest demonstration march ever seen in Tahiti.

Before the crisis started, the islands were in a state of enthusiasm during July and most of August 2004. The new coalition government of the Union for Democracy (UPLD), Fetia Api, and No Oe E Te Nunaa parties was headed by pro-independence leader Oscar Temaru, who had been elected president in June after the almost twenty-year reign of pro-French Gaston Flosse. The new leadership's motto, "Taui" ("change" in Tahitian) was not only conceived in the purely political sense but also reflected a determination to set the whole society on a new course. It implied a new cultural orientation, away from the French influence and back to the country's Maohi (indigenous Polynesian) roots, as well as toward a more pan-Pacific perspective. Three events in particular embodied these tendencies.

On 12 July, the new government celebrated the annual autonomy holiday parade. Thousands of people participated, while several guests of honor from other Pacific Islands countries were present. The new president changed the holiday from 29 June to 12 July to honor Francis Sanford, the father of the territory's first statute of autonomy of 12 July 1977. Flosse had made the holiday 29 June when he created another, enlarged autonomy statute, which passed on that date in 1984 (NT, 28 June 2004; TP, 12 July 2004).

In early August, President Temaru achieved an even greater triumph when he attended the Pacific Islands Forum in Apia, Sāmoa, and French Polynesia was granted long-awaited observer status in that organization. The president welcomed the reintegration of his country into the Pacific family and invoked his vision of a more closely integrated Pacific community in the future. He also formalized the demand that French Polynesia be reinscribed on the UN list of NonSelf-Governing Territories. However, he was careful to present this in his capacity as political party leader, not as president, in order not to create tensions with his anti-independence coalition partners (Temaru 2004; TP, 6 Aug 2004).

Finally, the Taui also proved its vitality among institutions outside thepolitical spectrum, when in mid-August [End Page 133] the Evangelical Church of French Polynesia, the country's largest denomination, renamed itself Protestant Maohi Church (TP, 16 Aug 2004).

While the dynamism of Taui made society aware of the dawning of a new era, the actual business of government was a challenge for Temaru and his inexperienced collaborators. Not only were they unfamiliar with the political system put in place by Flosse and his French bureaucrats, butthe latter had also used a "scorched-earth" strategy after their defeat, leaving almost no records in the offices when the new government moved in (TPM, July 2005). In order to get an overview of the financial situation of the country, Temaru ordered an audit by a renowned French agency. His determination to uncover irregularities during Flosse's administration reportedly scared the ex-president and his supporters and made them even more determined to sabotage the new government (Regnault 2004, 153–154).

The crisis began in late August when two UPLD representatives inthe Assembly of French Polynesia, Hiro Tefaarere and Ronald Terorotua, both with strong labor-union ties, followed by their colleagues Noa Tetuanui and Jean-Alain Frébault (who had previously crossed the floor from Tahoeraa), announced their intention to resign from the UPLD and form their own parliamentary group. They argued that Temaru's government had not kept its electoral promises, especially in the field of social policy. The second issue that roused their discontent was the cross installed by Speaker Antony Geros in the assembly hall, seen by many as an assault on the secular character of the state (TP, 13 Aug, 18 Aug, 30 Aug 2004). Temaru tried to appease the dissidents' anger by making concessions. In a dramatic act he personally climbed...