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  • French Polynesia
  • Lorenz Gonschor (bio)

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...