- An Interview with Oscar Temaru
On 11 January 2012, tcp Editorial Board members Terence Wesley-Smith, Tarcisius Kabutaulaka, and Gerard Finin interviewed then-President of French Polynesia Oscar Temaru. President Temaru was in Honolulu to meet with local business leaders and to visit the United States Pacific Command (uspacom) at Camp Smith. The interview was conducted in the offices of Hawai‘i State Senator J Kalani English, chair of the Committee on Transportation and International Affairs and host of the president’s visit. Although the meeting took place at the end of a very busy day, President Temaru was eager to talk about his career in politics as well as current issues in French Polynesia.
Oscar Manutahi Temaru was born in the district of Faaa on Tahiti on 1 November 1944 of a Tahitian father and a Cook Islander mother. He grew up in Faaa and in Papeete, where he attended a Catholic secondary school. During school holidays he visited his maternal relatives in New Zealand and worked in the freezing works in the suburbs of Auckland. After graduating from secondary school in 1961, he served in the French navy for three years. During that time he was deployed to fight in the Algerian war, which left a lasting impression on him. After returning to Tahiti in 1964, he worked as a customs officer, a position from which he retired in 1999. In 1972, he married Marie, from the Tuamotu Islands, and they have seven children. Temaru founded the pro-independence and antinuclear political party Front de Libération de Polynésie (Polynesian Liberation Front) in 1977. The party’s name was changed to Tavini Huiraatira No Te Ao Maohi (Serving the People of Te Ao Maohi) in 1983, the year in which Temaru was elected mayor of the City of Faaa, a position he has held ever since. In 1986 Tavini Huiraatira won two seats in the Territorial Assembly, [End Page 300] and by the late 1990s it had become the leading opposition party. In the territorial elections of May 2004, Tavini Huiraatira formed an alliance with smaller opposition parties, collectively styled the Union Pour La Démocratie (upld, Union for Democracy), and Temaru became Gaston Flosse’s successor as president of French Polynesia. Since then, due to slim majorities, the presidency has changed ten times, passed between Temaru, Flosse, and Gaston Tong Sang (a former Flosse ally), often in opportunistic coalitions between two of the three leaders. After several intermittent episodes, including an ephemeral alliance with former archenemy Flosse and a loss of the 2008 territorial elections to the party of then Paris-favored Tong Sang, Temaru regained the presidency in April 2011 and held it until the May 2013 elections.
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Since the beginning of his political career, Temaru has worked tirelessly to get his country back on the United Nations list of non-self-governing territories (nsgts), from which it was unilaterally removed by France in 1947. Backed by an assembly resolution in favor of reinscription, as well as strong support from Richard Ariihau Tuheiava, one of French Polynesia’s two senators in the French Senate, Temaru has spent much effort lobbying the United Nations to act accordingly. Thanks to the strong support of several Pacific Island nations and the Non-Aligned Movement, whose 120 member states pledged support for French Polynesia at their latest summit conference in Tehran in August 2012, the UN General Assembly [End Page 301] voted on 17 May 2013 to put the country back on the list. Unlike its hitherto ambiguous status as an “autonomous” overseas collectivity within France,nsgtstatus will guarantee the right of the Maohi people of French Polynesia to self-determination.
This introductionwas written by Lorenz Gonschor, drawing on information from an article titled “Mais qui donc est Oscar Temaru?” which appeared in Tahiti-Pacifique Magazine 159 (July 2004): 15–19. Thanks to Candice Steiner for...