PACIFIC ISLANDS REPORT
Pacific Islands Development Program/East-West Center
FRENCH POLYNESIA’S ‘VAST COMEDY’ BACK ON STAGE
By Patrick Antoine Decloitre
As a result of a third and final round of vote, on Saturday, between Temaru and Bouissou for the position of Speaker, the pro-independence leader received thirty votes and Bouissou twenty.
A short while earlier, after Tong Sang’s announcement, Temaru had obtained 22 of the 57 votes as a result of a second round of voting, while Bouissou had received 20 and Flosse 12, instead of the 27 he would have expected from a united Tahoeraa-To Tatou Ai’a caucus.
All parties in French Polynesia have been involved in heavy horse-trading throughout this week.
According to latest counts, in the 57-seat House, Tong Sang’s To Tatou Ai’a has 12 MPs, Flosse’s Tahoeraa Huiraatira has 8, Temaru’s Union for Democracy (UDSP) 20.
The rest of the parties have respectively 6 (Ia Orana Te Fenua), 6 (Te Natira’a), 5 (independents).
No one party or group of parties has a majority, including Tong Sang’s To Tatou Ai’a.
Earlier attempts to elect a Speaker on Friday and Saturday had failed.
The latest political events, including the election of Temaru as Speaker, de facto mark the end of Tong Sang’s To Tatou Ai’a coalition with Flosse’s Tahoeraa Huiraatira.
Speaking after Temaru’s election, Flosse even lashed out at Tong Sang, openly congratulating him for contributing to Temaru’s election by opposing his bid.
"Now this proves that your words are worthless", he told the House.
Speaking at a press conference earlier, Tong Sang said his call for the French government to shorten the term of the Assembly, was motivated by what he termed his failure to strengthen his parliamentary majority "in the country’s general interest".
"This exceptional situation requires and exceptional decision… At a cabinet meeting this morning, I have decided to ask the President of the (French) Republic to dissolve the assembly, because we can no longer manage the country in this situation. Any other move would be sheer unconsciousness and political irresponsibility", Tong Sang told a press conference.
Tong Sang added the snap poll could be an opportunity for prior implementation of an electoral reform but this and the timeframe of the whole process, he said, would be left to the appreciation of the French President.
There has not been any immediate reaction from Paris.
"The situation is so serious that we cannot afford to carry on these political games, which every one condemns. Every day, the image of the political class is totally tarnished", Tong Sang told journalists.
Under the current framework status of French Polynesia vis-à-vis France, dissolution of the Assembly can only be justified if the French Pacific country’s institutions are deemed gripped and unable to function properly.
Tong Sang’s move came in-between two rounds of a vote to elect the Speaker of the House, with Tong Sang’s To Tatou Ai’a party clashing with its latest political coalition ally, former President Gaston Flosse’s Tahoeraa Huiraatira.
Under the agreements that saw Tong Sang come back to power in November 2009, Tahoeraa was to get the position of Speaker.
Last month, Tong Sang’s Vice-president Édouard Fritch, who is Flosse’s party’s associate President, has firmly reminded Tong Sang of his obligations under the coalition agreement.
In a thinly-veiled threat, he said in substance that if Flosse was not elected to the position of Speaker, the current majority (which is already paper-thin) in the 57-seat House would simply collapse.
Earlier this week, incumbent Speaker Philip Schyle resigned from Tong Sang’s group.
The bone of contention was the name of Gaston Flosse, who is still under investigation in a number of corruption cases.
Flosse, on Saturday, was one of the candidates for the Speaker’s position, along with another former President of French Polynesia, pro-independence Oscar Temaru and a former minister, Jean-Christophe Bouissou, who seems to be To Tatou Ai’a final preference, instead of Flosse.
The French government has made it clear on numerous occasions that any return of Flosse to the forefront would be strongly opposed.
French Polynesia has been marred by chronic political instability since the 2004 general elections, with governments changing constantly, mostly as a result of paper-thin majorities, a small group of independent MPs changing sides and the vote of motions of no confidence.
"Vast comedy": Sarkozy
Late January this year, French President Nicolas Sarkozy slammed French Polynesia’s "vast comedy" in terms of political instability and announced yet another electoral and institutional reform to put an end to this situation.
Speaking from the island of La Réunion, a French overseas department in the Indian Ocean, on the occasion of his New Year Wishes to all French overseas communities, he touched on French Polynesia with a pledge that an electoral reform would be carried out "some time this year".
The aim, he said, was to "guarantee more stability to elected majorities".
Sarkozy however acknowledged that similar reforms had been implemented in French Polynesia in recent years, including one in 2007.
"In spite of several reforms, French Polynesia has not yet been able to find the political stability it aspires to", he said.
But he justifies the intention to try again by saying he was "convinced that (French) Polynesians are for sure flabbergasted at these systematic shifts in alliances".
The latest change of government came about only a few months ago, late 2009, when yet another motion of no confidence was passed against then President Oscar Temaru.
He has been replaced by Gaston Tong Sang, who himself had been thrown out in a similar manner a few months earlier.
Since 2004, which marked the end of an era of almost twenty years of undisputed rule by former President Gaston Flosse, French Polynesia has seen close to ten changes in governments.
The changes, most of the time, occurred as a result of sudden changes in alliances between small parties and the larger ones, with nearly every possible combination over a span of six years.
The chronic instability has also taken its toll on the local economy, with a significant drop in investors’ confidence and tourism arrivals.
The effects were compounded last year by the global financial crisis.
Electoral reform mooted in Paris
"(French) Polynesia deserves serious elected leaders and not a vast comedy where enemies of yesterday become the allies of today", Sarkozy lashed out in January.
"At a time when everyone should mobilise their energy to face the current crisis, this chronic instability is intolerable for those (French) Polynesians who are suffering. I will therefore initiate this year a reform of the electoral system and of the institutional mechanisms in order to guarantee more stability to elected majorities and therefore to give more capacity to envisage political and public actions in the long term", he said.
The announcement coincided visit, a few days earlier, by Tong Sang in Paris, where he held talks with several French government ministers and officials.
On the issue of possible reforms for French Polynesia’s institutional and electoral setup, he went as far as saying the election of the President (the position he currently holds) could shift from the current parliamentary suffrage (from the 57 members of the local legislative assembly) to a universal direct suffrage.
During the same January speech, Sarkozy also called on all French overseas communities to take charge of their own economical destiny by generating their own economic self-reliance, instead of relying on a hand-out policy by way of subsidies from the French government.
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