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  • French Polynesia
  • Lorenz Gonschor (bio)

With three changes of governments, political instability in French Polynesia increased further during the period under review. Reform of the country's political system and fresh elections, both unilaterally imposed by Paris, served to further aggravate the situation. Meanwhile, the local political scene was being reconfigured, with once staunchly pro-French leader Gaston Flosse allying himself with his pro-independence archrival Oscar Temaru, while many of Flosse's former allies formed a heterogeneous pro French coalition under Gaston Tong Sang.

In mid-July, the governing pro French coalition under President Tong Sang, formed in late December 2006 out of Flosse's Tahoeraa Huiraatira (People's Rally) party and several splinter groups opposed to the previous pro-independence president, Oscar Temaru, broke apart after barely six months in existence. An internal power struggle between Flosse and Tong Sang had been going on for several months, but it escalated during Tong Sang's visit to Paris in early July. Tong Sang and his delegation met French President Nicolas Sarkozy [End Page 151] and negotiated contracts with several French ministries (NT, 10 July 2008). However, assembly Speaker Edouard Fritch, Flosse's son-in-law, and other leading Tahoeraa members were not part of the delegation and complained about the lack of discussion about the contracts in the assembly before the trip (NT, 7 July 2007; TPM, Aug 2007).

As a result, shortly after Tong Sang's return from Paris, the five Tahoeraa ministers in Tong Sang's cabinet resigned, and the party decided to withdraw from the coalition, leaving Tong Sang and his remaining coalition partners in a minority position (DT, 19 July 2007).

One day later, Flosse announced that he had had talks with opposition leader Temaru and was ready to form a new governing coalition (DT, 20 July 2007). He advocated a reconciliation of the two historically opposed political blocks, and an agreement to respect each other's political convictions and work for the common good (NT, 21 July 2007). When French Secretary of State for Overseas Territories Christian Estrosi criticized the proposal, Flosse accused him of having a colonialist attitude (NT, 23 July 2007). In an extraordinary party convention on 25 July, Tahoeraa approved the withdrawal from Tong Sang's government and the negotiations with Temaru. However, Flosse had insisted on an open vote instead of a secret ballot (DT, 26 July 2007). Subsequently, the party encountered many problems with dissidents who deserted to Tong Sang, thus weakening Flosse's position (TPM, Oct 2007).

Flosse's maneuver surprised many observers, but it can be explained in terms of the changing political landscape in Paris. Since Sarkozy took over the presidency from Jacques Chirac in May, the latter's close friend Flosse no longer receives special support from Paris. Instead, Sarkozy has made his preference for Tong Sang quite obvious. As he demonstrated earlier in his career, Flosse is much more a power politician than an ideologue (he changed from an apologist of authoritarian colonial rule to an ardent supporter of local autonomy in the early 1980s). He was ready to ally with the pro-independence camp in order to undermine the new Sarkozy–Tong Sang axis and keep himself in a position of power.

After Tong Sang's attempts in consultations with Tahoeraa leaders to save his minority government failed, Temaru's UPLD (Union for Democracy) coalition filed a motion of censure against the government. This was adopted by the assembly on 31 August with an ample majority of 35 votes, combining those of UPLD with those of Tahoeraa (TPM, Sept 2007). Tong Sang had attempted to delay his overthrow by filing a procedural complaint, and on 8 September about 2, 500 people marched through the streets of Papeete in support of the ousted president (DT, 9 Sept 2007). However, the show of force was to no avail (TPM, Sept 2007).

For the election of a new president on 13 September, Tahoeraa came up with a new twist. It denied any alliance with the UPLD and presented Edouard Fritch as its own candidate to run against Temaru and Tong Sang. As none of them could receive the overall majority required to be elected, Flosse's...

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Additional Information

ISSN
1527-9464
Print ISSN
1043-898X
Pages
pp. 151-162
Launched on MUSE
2009-02-11
Open Access
No
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