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  • French Polynesia
  • Lorenz Gonschor (bio)

The chronic political instability that has been plaguing the country since 2004 continued, with no fewer than three different governments during the period under review. The surprising [End Page 168] alliance between the two former archenemies Oscar Temaru and Gaston Flosse broke apart almost as quickly as it had come to be. With short-term coalitions now possible between each and every political party, political ideologies seem to be increasingly irrelevant, less and less masking the opportunist ambitions of politicians for power and money.

Many important people passed away during the year under review. On 16 August 2008, former Archbishop Michel Coppenrath, the first Tahitian Catholic priest, died at age 84 (TPM, Sept 2008), followed on 4 November by his elder brother Gerald Coppenrath, an attorney, legal scholar, and politician who had served as French Polynesia's senator from 1958 to 1962 (TPM, Dec 2008). On 4 January, entrepreneur and master navigator Francis Cowan, one of the pioneers of the revival of traditional navigation in Oceania, passed away at age 82 (TP, 5 Jan 2009). Alexandre Léontieff, economist and former president (1987-1991), and recently appointed chairman of the Social Contingency Fund (the territorial health insurance), passed away on 2 March at age 61 after a dazzling political career. On 13 March, veteran politician Tinomana "Milou" Ebb, former mayor of Mataiea and president of the assembly from 1994 to 1996, died at age 75 (TPM, April 2009).

The review period began with the arrival of the new French high commissioner, Adolphe Colrat, on 5 July, taking the place of Anne Boquet as the representative of the French government (TPM, Aug 2008). Boquet's term had been fraught with controversy, since her attitude toward the local government had frequently changed from one of respect and reconciliation to one of interference, confrontation, and colonial arrogance.

In mid-July, new French Secretary for Overseas Territories Yves Jego visited the country and urged the local government to be more accountable. While promising that the annual amount of subsidies from Paris for the country government would remain stable for 2009, he announced that the gigantic new hospital under construction in Taaone (begun under Flosse in the early 2000s) will not receive any French funding for its operation. A week later, High Commissioner Colrat announced the gradual closing down of the remaining French army and air force bases during the next few years (TPM, Aug 2008).

While these announcements gave rise to speculations about France's decreasing commitment to the country, local politics entered another round with the upcoming French Senate elections of 21 September. On 10 July, a common ticket was agreed to by the parties of the two historic pro-French and pro-independence leaders Gaston Flosse and Oscar Temaru-Tahoeraa Huiraatira (People's Rally) and Tavini Huiraatira (People's Servant)/Union pour la Democratie (UPLD)-which were already forming a common caucus in the assembly under the name of Union pour le Développement, la Stabilité, et la Paix (UDSP) (TPM, Aug 2008). The two former archenemies had reconciled in July 2007 and entered into a coalition in order to fight Gaston Tong Sang, leader of To Tatou Aia (Our Homeland) coalition and president of the country since April 2008, whom they both criticized [End Page 169] as being too pro-French. Since Temaru, then Speaker of the assembly, was not interested in a senate seat, attorney Richard Tuheiava was nominated by Temaru's party as the second candidate on the common list with Flosse (TP, 8 Aug 2008).

Since 1999, Flosse had been the country's only representative in the French Senate on a nine-year term, in addition to his various local offices. In a reapportionment of seats, French Polynesia had received a second seat in the senate due to its increased population for the 2008 elections, while the term of office for senators was reduced to six years. French senators are elected by the so-called grand electors (ie, deputies of the National Assembly, members of regional assemblies, and delegates of municipal councils). The electoral campaign was therefore mainly limited to the municipal councilors of the forty-eight municipalities of French Polynesia, who make...