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The Contemporary Pacific 13.1 (2001) 225-235

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French Polynesia

Polynesia in Review: Issues and Events, 1 July 1999 to 30 June 2000

Recent developments in French Polynesia can be viewed through the prism of the forthcoming bumper election year in 2001 when, by coincidence, both the territorial and the municipal governments come up for renewal. Certainly the policies and machinations of both the incumbent government and the opposition parties were designed with this prospect in mind. The Tahoeraa government thus tried, but ultimately failed, to repeat its 1996 feat of pushing through yet another statutory reform redolent with nationalist symbolism. By contrast, the opposition united, and succeeded, in their aim of reforming the territory-wide electoral boundaries in favor of the urban constituency where their parties are strongest. Unprecedented, if anticipated, verdicts in the courts saw both President Flosse and former president Alexandre Léontieff convicted in separate cases of corruption. This means that possibly Flosse, and certainly Léontieff (who now sides with the indépendentiste opposition) will not be eligible to stand as candidates in 2001. Down but not out, the government pursued opulence-oriented initiatives including the inauguration of palatial offices for the presidency, an entertainment complex, and a territorial television station. The economy also worked to the government's advantage, putting in a solid peRFOrmance.

French Polynesia was progressing steadily toward the new political status of overseas country (pays d'outre mer 1 ) in the latter half of 1999. The draft constitutional law project was adopted by the French national assembly on 10 June and later by the senate on 12 October. Notwithstanding the concerted efforts of Deputy-Mayor Michel Buillard and Senator-President Gaston Flosse, France rejected numerous proposals by the territorial assembly to increase French Polynesia's powers under the new status. Most important (and unlike the agreement reached by New Caledonia) the transfer of specific powers to French Polynesia as a pays d'outre mer would not be definitive; in other words, it could be reversed at a later date. Nor did the French Polynesian assembly realize its ambition to have its legislation accountable only to the French constitutional council. French Polynesia also sought a major expansion of its powers to negotiate international accords, including the a priori right to sign such agreements. This claim too was rejected, as was the quest to call the "country" Tahiti Nui (TP, July 1999, 28-29; Nov 1999, 26-27).

Despite the limitations of the pays d'outre mer status, Flosse pronounced himself satisfied with the final version of the constitutional amendment, which had retained his much-vaunted [End Page 225] conception of Polynesian citizenship. (The enthusiasm for citizenship was not shared by the opposition, which considered it meaningless without restrictions on the right to vote as applied in the New Caledonia reforms.) Flosse was very keen to push through the constitutional change prior to the 2001 elections, as he believed new statutory gains would provide a welcome boost to his party's electoral campaign. It was a major disappointment for the president and his government when the process of instituting the new status stalled at the final stage of its approval. Such changes to the French constitution require the approval of a joint sitting by the two houses of parliament, known as a Congress of Versailles. The session was planned for 24 January but was canceled indefinitely because the opposition had signaled it would not approve an important constitutional amendment relating to reform of the French legal system that was scheduled for the same day. Although the pays d'outre mer amendment had received bipartisan support, the government was loath to organize a joint sitting solely to consider it. French Polynesia's quest to be a "country" was posTPoned to an undetermined future date (TP, January 2000, 32-33).

As flagged in the previous review (von Strokirch 2000), the embittered Deputy-Mayor Emile Vernaudon continued his crusade to bring down the government of Flosse and his Tahoeraa party by whatever means necessary. A centerpiece of his strategy was to pursue electoral reforms that would benefit the...