Reviews of American Sāmoa, Cook Islands, Niue, Sāmoa, Tokelau, Tuvalu, and Wallis and Futuna are not included in this issue.
The year under review was again relatively calm, without major political upheavals. Backed by a surprisingly stable majority in the Assembly of French Polynesia for his Tapura Huiraatira party, President Édouard Fritch continued leading the country with an essentially conservative political agenda, not aiming at major institutional or policy changes. On the regional level, the country gained the controversial distinction of becoming a full member of the Pacific Islands Forum (pif). National elections in France brought some fresh air into the local political scene, giving Fritch's camp the opportunity to measure its popular support, while the pro-independence opposition was able to place its first-ever representative in the French National Assembly. At the same time, the massive reconfiguration of the political scene in Paris during those elections has the potential to induce changes in the local configurations in Papeete over the coming years.
The first consequential political event affecting the territory during the review period happened far away on Pohnpei in the Federated State of Micronesia, where the pif annual meeting took place from 8 to 10 September 2016, and the status of French Polynesia and New Caledonia, associate members since 2006, was upgraded to full membership in the organization (pir, 10 Sept 2016).
While appearing at first glance a gesture of appreciation toward the two large French overseas possessions by their independent Pacific neighbors, full membership for French Polynesia—as for New Caledonia—was in fact highly controversial, both within the country and among the larger Pacific community. The government of French Polynesia and especially President Fritch, who was present in Pohnpei, surely expressed their satisfaction and joy to have at last reached formal equality with the neighbor countries, as did the president of New Caledonia's government, Philippe Germain.
But, just like the Kanak pro-independence parties in New Caledonia, Papeete's pro-independence opposition strongly opposed full membership and had in fact lobbied against it as much as possible (rnz, 11 Sept 2016). Opposition leader and former French Polynesia President Oscar Temaru, head of the pro-independence Tavini Huiraatira party and the larger opposition coalition Union pour la Démocratie (upld), had always warned that premature membership before having reached either independence or full self-government could jeopardize or at least slow down the decolonization process, since it weakens the position of the Island states to put pressure on France in order to accelerate that process, making it more attractive to local leaders to [End Page 156] insist on complete decolonization as a precondition for full pif membership.
Indeed, the acceptance of the two territories as full members clearly contradicts the self-definition of the Pacific Islands Forum as consisting of "independent and self-governing states" (pif Secretariat 2017). This makes sense, since in only partially self-governing territories such as French Polynesia, the colonial metropolis—France, in this case—continues to have decisive influence. And it must be recalled that the pif was founded in 1971 specifically to create an organization run by Island leaders in which colonial powers (specifically France, with its extremely reactionary colonial policies at the time) had no possibility to interfere (Fry 2015, 3–4). Since according to the organic law of French Polynesia foreign affairs is an area of responsibility of the French national government and not of the semiautonomous country government, the latter cannot make its own decisions in this field without prior approval from Paris. Hence, decolonization experts warned that membership for French Polynesia and New Caledonia would be tantamount to a Trojan horse for France to enter the Pacific Islands Forum (otr, 19 Sept 2016).
It was also suspected that Australia and New Zealand, whose geopolitical interests appear to align ever more closely with those of France, were exerting pressure on the smaller island states to accept this de facto membership of France, in order to obtain a further ally to support their neocolonial regional hegemony in the Pacific Islands Forum and to contain the ramifications of Fiji's alternative partnerships with China and other non-Western powers (rnz, 14 Sept 2016; otr, 18 Sept 2016).
Armed with pif membership as evidence of tacit regional approval of the country's current relationship with France, in early October 2016 Fritch attended the meeting of the United Nations' Special Committee on Decolonization in New York to lobby for the removal of French Polynesia from the United Nations list of Non-Self-Governing Territories (nsgts), to which it had been re-added in 2013. Fritch, the first-ever pro-French local political leader to attend such a meeting, argued that since pro-French parties held the majority in the local assembly, decolonization was not desired by the local people, and furthermore, that acceptance into the Pacific Islands Forum demonstrated that such a process was unnecessary (pir, 4 Oct 2016).
But this turned out to be a futile undertaking. Without checkbook-wielding regional hegemons like Australia and New Zealand in the room, a body run entirely by nonaligned countries of the Global South like the UN Decolonization Committee was not easily impressed by Fritch's efforts. Furthermore, the pro-French party Tahoeraa Huiraatira of former President Gaston Flosse, the third force in the local assembly, from which Fritch's movement had split in 2015, publicly disavowed Fritch's New York mission and denied his authority to speak for all "autonomist" (ie, anti-independence) locals (ti, 3 Oct 2016). Unlike the Pacific Islands Forum, the United Nations would not bend its rules on decolonization. And as these rules stand, only a UN-supervised referendum of self-determination, resulting in [End Page 157] either independence, free association, or full integration (ie, becoming an administrative unit of metropolitan France in this case) would lead to a removal from the list. In the end, Moetai Brotherson, Tavini Huiraatira's representative at the Decolonization Committee meeting, provided more convincing counterpoints at the meeting, highlighting the fact that the country's "relisting on the UN list in 2013 gave France bad reasons to want us in the Forum, but at the same time gave our Pacific brothers a noble motivation to welcome us in" (otr, 7 Oct 2016).
Based on a draft prepared by the Decolonization Committee, the UN General Assembly unanimously adopted Resolution 71–120 on the question of French Polynesia on 6 December 2016. While taking note of pif membership for the territory, the resolution once more chastised France for refusing to cooperate and submit information on the territory—this was the third year in a row that French Polynesia was the only nsgt for which the administrative power refused to submit any information, in violation of its obligation to do so under article 73e of the UN charter. As in the year before, the UN General Assembly urged France to work with both the territory and appropriate UN bodies to educate the people on their right of self-determination and to implement it without delay. In addition, this year's resolution contained much stronger language in support of the country's economic and ecological rights, underlining "the permanent sovereignty of the people of French Polynesia over their natural resources, including marine resources and undersea minerals" and requested UN authorities to monitor the impact of French nuclear testing on the territory's environment and its people's health (United Nations 2016).
Meanwhile, back home, the ghosts of the past were catching up with President Fritch, reminding everyone that, despite his efforts to style himself as a new, rational, and forward-looking leader in local politics, he was far from a blank slate, as in late September he was sentenced to repay 6.5 million cfp francs in salaries that he had received for a "fictional employment" in the presidential office under Flosse between 1996 and 2004, part of a large scheme of illegal funding of Tahoeraa (Pacnews, 1 Oct 2016). (One hundred cfp francs is approximately us$1.00.) Flosse himself and several others were sentenced to pay back an overall sum of 243 million cfp francs to the public treasury (ti, 22 Sept 2016).
But apparently this type of behavior was not confined to the recent past, as in mid-October, Flosse and Assembly Speaker Marcel Tuihani, Fritch's successor as Flosse's lieutenant party leader, were detained for questioning about a current suspected "fictional employment" of four Tahoeraa party members at the assembly's secretariat, at a combined annual salary of over 36 million cfp francs (pir, 15 Oct 2016). Just a few days earlier, Flosse and his partner Pascale Haiti had been sentenced to pay a fine of 3 million cfp francs for stealing expensive silverware from the presidential palace after Flosse's removal from the presidency due to the confirmation of another corruption conviction on appeal in 2014 (rnzi, 12 Oct 2013). [End Page 158]
While corruption remains rampant in local politics, the overall economic situation is not improving either. French subsidies to the local government and other monetary transfers from Paris remain the lifeline of the country. In August 2016, French High Commissioner René Bidal announced the possible increase of annual grants from Paris to the country government to 10.8 billion cfp francs, based on an obligation to compensate French Polynesia for three decades of nuclear testing from the 1960s to the 1990s (ti, 31 Aug 2016). But this figure does not cover various other monetary transfers to the territory, for instance, spending by the French state in areas of responsibility not delegated to the country government, as well as state subsidies to the municipalities. Altogether, money directed to the territory from Paris one way or another amounts to a total of far over one billion US dollars annually.
As long as France is willing to pay these sums, there is a semblance of economic prosperity, but it is certainly far from a desirable form of economy. A dynamic private sector providing economic growth has been virtually absent for a long time. As Fritch's minister for economic recovery, Teva Rohfritsch, succinctly stated, "The whole challenge is to get from an economy of public monetary transfers to an economy of growth" (ti, 10 Oct 2016).
In order to create such growth, Fritch and his predecessors Flosse, Temaru, and Tong Sang have all tried to attract investment in various development schemes, but it appears none of them has yet yielded significant revenue for the country. These include Flosse's "pharaonic" tourism development project named Mahana Beach, continued by Fritch but still in little more than its planning stage; a Chinese-run aquaculture farm in the lagoon of Hao atoll that is under construction (ti, 21 June 2017); and, more recently, plans to reopen phosphate mining on Makatea, where such mining operations existed until the 1960s, and possibly on other Tuamotu islands as well (ti, 30 Nov 2016). More eccentric is a project by Seasteading Institute, a libertarian think tank in California, to build a city of floating islands within French Polynesia's exclusive economic zone as a prototype for the envisioned future creation of such modules on the high seas beyond the control of any government—a project that also received President Fritch's support (ti, 5 Jan 2017).
On a more practical level, French Polynesia also worked on the further diversification of its foreign relations, mainly in order to open up new tourist markets. In November, the country government announced a new French Polynesia liaison office in St Petersburg, Russia, which opened in early 2017, to advertise more efficiently to the growing upper-class Russian tourist market (pir, 14 Nov 2016; tpm, 24 Feb 2017), while a similar Canadian office was being built in Papeete (ti, 29 Nov 2016). Not only are significant numbers of Canadians visiting Tahiti, but there is also a growing Tahitian diaspora in the francophone part of Canada.
More controversial are the Fritch government's projects to implement neoliberal "reforms" aimed at reducing social security systems and services, [End Page 159] which have never been as well organized as in metropolitan France. Since the gap between rich and poor has already been widening dramatically over the last few years, such measures are sure to provoke major protests by trade unions and possible social unrest (tpm, 28 Oct 2016).
At the same time, the widening of social inequalities inevitably leads to further deterioration of social values. During the review period, various criminal court cases took place involving domestic violence, including pedophile abuse and other sexual aggressions. As if all of this was not enough, Islamic extremism was being imported from France into the local Nuutania prison, where a Polynesian inmate who had become an adherent of jihadist Islam in a jail in France repeatedly attacked his cellmates and guards and had to be put into solitary confinement (ti, 1 Sept 2016).
On a more positive note, toward the end of the year Walt Disney Corporation announced that its Polynesian-themed, animated juvenile film Moana would be dubbed entirely in Tahitian, including all song texts, and the Tahitian version of the film would be released in local theaters in early 2017. While the small target audience would not make this commercially viable for Disney, the corporation intended to make a positive contribution to cultural preservation in the Pacific, part of a campaign to improve its image among indigenous communities that have often accused Disney and other Hollywood firms of exploiting their culture without giving anything back (ti, 24 Oct 2016). Around the same time, a French film studio was producing a movie about the life of French painter Paul Gauguin, with most scenes filmed on location in Tahiti (ti, 3 Jan 2017). Ironically, while Gauguin's legacy in Tahiti was celebrated in cinematography, the Gauguin Museum, a major tourist attraction, definitively closed in early 2017—a move beyond comprehension in terms of tourism development strategy (tpm, 16 June 2017).
Back to politics, the simmering issue of Marquesan secession received new impetus during the review period, as apparently the mayors of all six municipalities in the archipelago have now agreed to lobby Paris to separate their archipelago from the rest of French Polynesia to become its own French overseas entity. Both Fritch and Temaru, in a rare display of unity, denounced the proposal, as had Flosse in the past (rnzi, 30 Nov 2016).
While this issue will probably remain in a standoff for years to come, the upcoming French presidential and parliamentary elections started having major repercussions on local politics after the beginning of the New Year. Receiving ever-lower ratings, incumbent François Hollande decided not to run again for the French presidency, and since both his Socialist party and the center-right Gaullist Republicans presented weak candidates, a lot of attention began to be paid to Marine Le Pen of the far-right National Front, who was considered to be within reach of the presidency.
In New Caledonia the National Front has always been supported by the most reactionary faction of French settlers and accordingly opposes any steps toward decolonization there. It has similarly opposed decolonization in French Polynesia, where the party [End Page 160] has no significant support base, mainly for reasons of French national prestige. But in February 2017, to boost her support in French Polynesia for the upcoming elections, Le Pen made a surprising turn by announcing that if elected she would initiate a process leading to a self-determination referendum after ten to fifteen years, with a preferred final status of free association in which France would only be responsible for foreign affairs, defense, currency, and judiciary, while irreversibly devolving all other fields of governance to the country government (Polynésie Première, 11 Feb 2017). Le Pen's new platform in favor of free association happened to be identical with that of Flosse's Tahoeraa Huiraatira party, and indeed Tahoeraa became the official local partner in Le Pen's presidential campaign (ti, 27 March 2017; tpm, 7 April 2017).
Meanwhile, Fritch's Tapura, which had taken over Tahoeraa's former position as the Republicans' local partner, logically backed the latter's candidate, François Fillon. Temaru's Tavini-upld, on the other hand, did not endorse any presidential candidate, but Temaru himself announced his candidacy for French president, not actually hoping to win the vote but rather in order to get access to campaign time in the French national media to advocate for the decolonization of his country. But in the end, he was unable to gather the necessary five hundred signatures of elected officials in at least thirty different French administrative districts (rnzi, 2 March 2017).
While less than half of registered voters participated in the presidential elections, held in two rounds on 22 April and 6 May, the results reflected the local endorsements, with Le Pen scoring 33 percent in the first round, and a record 42 percent in the second round (much higher figures than in France), while Fillon, who placed only third in France, came in first in French Polynesia with 35 percent. The upstart Emmanuel Macron, who surprisingly scored first place on the national level in France, was far behind in French Polynesia, since he lacked the support of a major local political party. In the runoff against Le Pen, Macron received Tapura's support, as well as that of several splinter groups, and locally won with 58 percent, but this was still far behind his landslide victory figures on the French national level (ti, 23 April, 7 May 2017).
Of more importance for local politics were the French national assembly elections that followed on 3 and 17 June, even though participation rates turned out to be similarly low. The three deputy seats that represent French Polynesia in France's lower legislative chamber were hotly contested by the three major political parties. Boosted by Le Pen's high scores in the previous month, Flosse felt overly confident of winning back all three seats (which in fact Tahoeraa had won in 2012, but two of the deputies had followed Fritch's 2015 split and joined Tapura).
In the first constituency—comprising the city of Papeete and its eastern suburbs, as well as Moorea and the Tuamotu and Marquesas archipelagos—Tapura incumbent Maina Sage led the vote in the first round and successfully defended her seat in the runoff against Tahoeraa candidate Moana Greig. Former Senator Richard [End Page 161] Tuheiava of Tavini-upld did not make it to the runoff, because he had competition from Tauhiti Nena, a former leading upld member who had recently split off and formed his own party named Tau Hoturau. In the second constituency (rural Tahiti and Austral Islands), Tahoeraa loyalist incumbent Jonas Tahuaitu did not run for reelection, and Tapura's Nicole Sanquer beat the new Tahoeraa candidate, Teura Iriti, in both rounds, solidly taking over Tahoeraa's last stronghold for Fritch's camp. upld's Tina Cross only scored third in the first round, while an independent candidate, Tepuaraurii Teriitahi, gained a surprisingly high score and thus played a role similar to that of Nena in the first constituency.
But it was the third constituency—including the large cities of Faaa and Punaauia on Tahiti as well as the Leeward Islands—that delivered the biggest surprise. Tapura incumbent Jean-Paul Tuaiva, damaged by corruption accusations, had declined to run again, and his successor as Fritch-affiliated candidate, Patrick Howell, led the vote in the first round with a solid 33 percent. But the second-highest score was not Tahoeraa's Vincent Dubois, but rather Moetai Brotherson of Tavini-upld, and since Dubois decided to endorse Brotherson for the runoff, the latter won against Howell and thus became the first local pro-independence politician to sit in the National Assembly (dt, 5 June, 19 June 2017).
An analysis of the election results points to the beginning of a new cycle in the ever-revolving local political landscape. For Fritch's Tapura, the elections proved that the new party did not merely commandeer a parliamentary majority of convenience but could actually mobilize significant electoral support. Flosse's rump Tahoeraa, on the other hand, experienced not more than a momentary blip with Le Pen's high scores—partly explainable through upld's boycott of the presidential elections—but in fact has once more sunk to a historic low point of political power. In between the two election rounds, Flosse's loss of power continued, since Assembly Speaker Marcel Tuihani Jr (Flosse's lieutenant and possible successor after Fritch's desertion), decided to join his father, Tahoeraa treasurer Marcel Tuihani Sr, in quitting the party to become a nonpartisan, making Tahoeraa lose its last significant political officeholder (ti, 6 June 2017).
Tavini-upld, on the other hand, was able to profit from the power struggle between Tapura and Tahoeraa and gain entry to the French national legislature, an important step in its long-term strategy of pushing for the country's decolonization. While Temaru had made a blunder with his unsuccessful bid for the French presidency, he was smart enough to keep himself in the distance for the legislative elections and give Brother-son a chance to gain a public profile as a possible successor at the helm of the pro-independence movement. Unlike the idealistic but not always practically inclined Temaru, Brotherson is a realist intellectual characterized by both high moral integrity—one of the few local politicians never accused of corruption—and political acumen. On the very day of his election, Brother-son announced supporting a bill in the National Assembly that would [End Page 162] prohibit all politicians convicted of corruption from running for office, a measure that would be particularly useful in French Polynesia. Wearing a floral shirt, sandals, and shorts or pareu (wrap kilt) while his National Assembly colleagues were all dressed up in suits and ties, Brotherson immediately gained French national media attention as someone proudly representing his Polynesian identity in Paris (ti, 17 June, 20 June 2017).
It remains to be seen whether Brotherson and his two Tapura colleagues Sage and Sanquer will be able to work constructively with the government of France's new President Macron, whose new party En Marche also swept the legislative elections on the national level. While Sage and Sanquer joined the national caucus Les Constructifs (the Constructive Ones) that gathers the remnants of the Republicans and other center-right parties that survived En Marche's sweep, Brotherson and several other pro-independence deputies from other French overseas regions joined the French Communist Party in its new caucus, Gauche Démocrate et Républicaine (Democratic and Republican Left). Sage and Sanquer, together with President Fritch, are pushing for the continuation of negotiations with Macron's government toward the so-called Papeete Accord, which should give the country slightly more control over domestic affairs and guarantee further financial aid but is far from adequate compared to its alleged counterpart, the Nouméa Accord in New Caledonia (Gonschor 2017, 141–142). Shortly before leaving office, Hollande and Fritch had signed a preliminary accord, but a final agreement remains to be negotiated (pir, 19 March 2016). Brotherson, on the other hand, found it refreshing that Macron had denounced former French colonial policies as "crimes against humanity" during the presidential campaign and saw it as a possible indication that, unlike Hollande, the new president might be willing to collaborate with the United Nations on the territory's decolonization (ti, 17 June 2017).
Perhaps the most positive measure undertaken by the Hollande government toward the end of its term was the amendment to the so-called Morin Law of 2010 that regulates compensation of nuclear test victims, passed by the National Assembly in February (tntv, 9 Feb 2017). Promised by President Hollande during his visit to the territory a year prior, the amendment deletes a clause in the original law that had the effect of rendering most compensation claims technically "negligible," so that of the thousands of irradiation victims, only seven had been awarded compensation under the terms of the law—a fact that the two largest test victims associations, Moruroa e Tatou (MeT) and Association 193, had repeatedly denounced (ti, 21 July, 14 Oct 2016). Based on the amendment, the Paris Council of State, France's highest court of appeal, ruled on 28 June that all rejected cases had to be reexamined and that hitherto a causal relationship between nuclear irradiation and certain types of cancer must be presumed, unless it has been specifically proven that the cancer in question had another cause (ti, 3 July 2017).
While the amendment is good news for the victims of nuclear testing, the [End Page 163] test victims lost two of their most ardent advocates during the review period. On 25 December 2016, John Taroanui Doom passed away at age eighty. Besides having been the cofounder and main coordinator of MeT, the country's oldest nuclear test victims association, Doom had been active in the Evangelical Church of French Polynesia, the country's largest denomination, which under his influence became actively opposed to nuclear testing and supportive of decolonization, changing its name to Maohi Protestant Church in 2004. As a lay synod member and church administrator, Doom had furthermore worked at the Pacific Conference of Churches and later represented the Pacific churches at the secretariat of the World Council of Churches in Geneva. In those positions, Doom was instrumental in organizing a global network of solidarity in opposition to nuclear testing and in support of its victims. Furthermore, as an excellent orator in Tahitian, Doom was also a founding and lifelong member of the Tahitian Academy and thus played an important part in codifying and modernizing the country's principal indigenous language (ti, 26 Dec 2017). Shortly before his passing, Doom had succeeded in publishing his memoirs, providing insights into much of the social, political, and cultural life of the territory over the second half of the twentieth century (Doom 2016).
One of John Doom's principal partners in organizing Moruroa e Tatou, French nuclear weapons expert and peace activist Bruno Barillot, passed away on 25 March 2017, aged seventy-six. Having run a documentary center on French nuclear arms in Lyon for several decades, as well as being a cofounder of MeT, Barillot had come to Tahiti during one of Temaru's earlier terms as president to serve as the country government's official delegate in charge of the legacy of nuclear testing and as liaison with the victims associations. In between Temaru's multiple short terms in office, when local pro-French parties were in power and Barillot lost his government job, he had usually worked for the Protestant Church and MeT instead. After being fired once more by Flosse in 2013, Barillot was rehired by the Fritch government in August 2016 (ti, 26 March 2017; tntv, 25 March 2017).
The country also lost an iconic figure in local journalism, Alex W Du Prel, who died on 14 March at the age of seventy-three. Also known as an author of short stories, Du Prel started Tahiti Pacifique Magazine (tpm) in 1991. A remarkable one-man operation run out of a small home office off the grid on rural Moorea Island, Du Prel's magazine became feared by the political class for its unwavering investigative journalism, often providing the initial evidence used in corruption trials, and generally giving insights in social and political issues not offered by other media (ti, 14 March 2017; tpm, 24 March 2017).
Several long-serving politicians also passed away during the review period, including Roger Doom (John's brother), who had been mayor of West Taiarapu for most of his life as well as territorial assembly member (ti, 16 Sept 2016); his colleague Sylve Perry, long-serving mayor of the neighboring East Taiarapu municipality and also a former assembly [End Page 164] member (ti, 26 Aug 2016); Joseph Ah-Scha, assembly member from the Marquesas Islands (ti, 25 Jan 2017); and Pori Chan, delegate mayor of Kaukura Atoll in the Tuamotus (ti, 1 May 2017). Finally, the country also mourned two important cultural figures, local music producer Alphonse Vanfau (ti, 28 June 2016) and Wilfrid Pinai Lucas, one of the promoters of the Tahitian cultural renaissance during the end of last century (ti, 31 Jan 2017).
lorenz gonschor was born in Germany, where he studied anthropology, political science, and history; he obtained a master's degree in Pacific Islands studies in 2008 from the University of Hawai'i–Mānoa and a PhD in political science in 2016 from the same institution. Since mid-2017 he is a senior lecturer at 'Atenisi University in Tonga, where he is also the interim librarian, and serves as tcp's political reviews editor. His research interests include historical and contemporary governance and politics of Oceania. Thematically his work focuses on international relations, regionalism, and decolonization, and geographically on the countries and territories of Polynesia.
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