Flosse to shortly resume French Polynesian presidency
French Polynesia election outcomes pave way for return to presidency of Gaston Flosse.
Voters in French Polynesia have paved the way for the return to the presidency of the veteran politician Gaston Flosse, who will turn 82 next month.
In last weekend's election, his Tahoeraa Huiraatira won the biggest majority in its history and crushed the pro-independence party of Oscar Temaru.
The Tahoeraa's electoral triumph has defied those who thought that the corruption convictions Gaston Flosse received this year prevent his comeback.
Walter Zweifel reports:
Beatrice Vernaudon, the mayor of Pirae on Tahiti, announced Tahoeraa had won 60 percent of the votes in its stronghold and come first in just about every municipality territory-wide, marking one the most stunning comebacks anywhere. Under the new electoral system that gave the winning list a third of all seats as a bonus, the Tahoeraa secured 38 seats, which is double the seats of the other parties combined. The Tahoeraa more than trebled its representation since the last election in 2008. Gaston Flosse's deputy and son-in-law, Edouard Fritch, says the election outcome is a win for his leader and his past policies.
FRITCH: This victory is the victory of Mr Flosse also because he is the one who has built this economy in French Polynesia, who has built this new economy for us after the [nuclear] testing.
The victory celebrations were rather subdued, despite the overwhelming success. It came after a long election campaign that was dominated by the poor state of the economy on the side of the Tahoeraa, while the Union For Democracy of Oscar Temaru kept advocating the need for the territory to be decolonised. Mr Temaru defied convention, which bans campaigning on the eve of the vote, to address a youth rally in Punaauia, again with his pro-independence message. On election day, supporters were out in large numbers, turning polling stations into party hubs, with food stalls and music. The main rivals were the orange-coloured Tahoeraa backers and the blue and white coloured supporters of the Union For Democracy. They were waving their flags in clusters next to each other of facing each other along access streets. Also lining up, but in smaller numbers, were the backers of the A Tia Porinetia of Teva Rohfritsch. His party was touting itself as the third way, being against independence but not tarnished by corruption convictions as the Tahoeraa. After all, Gaston Flosse has accumulated more convictions than any politician under French watch. Tea Hirshon, a veteran assembly member and an associate of Mr Temaru, lost her seat at the weekend, but she concedes that Mr Flosse has superb political skills.
HIRSHON: Flosse is an extremely astute politician, very charismatic and very smart about getting the women with him. He flatters women a lot and he's right. This was one of my suggestions, because once you flatter the mother of the household, she will make sure that the whole household will vote for him.
Tea Hirshon says she's, however, surprised that the Tahoeraa managed to win over people believed to object to the antics of Mr Flosse.
HIRSHON: He's been in jail, he's going to go to court and may be going to jail again. And knowing that someone with that status, the director of the Catholic schools, he would have gone with Mr Fritch, that's fine. But with Mr Flosse, I don't understand, and I'm very worried about our country having no morality, no sense of ethics.
The Union For Democracy claimed that electing Mr Flosse with his criminal convictions will bring shame on the territory, but the Tahoeraa's deputy leader, Edouard Fritch, says this is not so.
FRITCH: The bad image of French Polynesia is the image of what happened since 2004, all that change in the government, all that difficulties we have had to build the economy of this country.
Edouard Fritch says rebuilding confidence will be a key task to revive the economy. But Mr Temaru says he doubts Mr Flosse can count on additional French financial support. Mr Temaru has acknowledged France's financial contributions, but he says the territory is bound to have to become more self-reliant. He blames his election defeat on the poor state of the economy, but questions whether his rival's promises can be fulfilled.
TEMARU: A lot of people are still dreaming that France will be behind Mr Flosse now, who is elected as the president of this country. At the same time we are telling our people it is time to address (the issue of) French financial support. We have to stand on our own feet.
A senior member of the incoming majority says there will be large public housing projects amid efforts to revive the economy. Jean-Christophe Bouissou says he is confident the new government can fulfil its election promises to cut unemployment, which is at a record high. Mr Bouissou says the private sector will also be asked to help absorb the jobless. He says among the steps being considered is to get highly profitable banks and the power company to share in efforts to balance the budget.
BOUISSOU: We cannot go and get the money from the people. The people have a hard time living today here in the country, so we need to go where the money is and the money is in these companies.
Jean-Christophe Bouissou says it is in their interests as well to revive the economy. The day after the election, Gaston Flosse spoke on local television, saying he will try to stop the decolonisation bid at the UN in New York which was lodged by the outgoing government of Oscar Temaru. Mr Flosse says the first sitting of the new assembly will adopt a resolution, asking the French President to intervene at the UN and to seek to annul the bid. Mr Flosse, who is also a French Senator, says independence will be the end of Polynesia. He says he hopes the A Tia Porinetia party will support his initiative. However, the territory's other member of the French Senate, the pro-independence politician Richard Tuheiava, says the application is already on the agenda.
TUHEIAVA: Our understanding of the process is that (the) Maohi Nui government no longer possesses or owns the resolution and the process, it's now in the hands of our sponsors.
Richard Tuheiava says the resolution could be debated in New York as soon as next week. In Papeete next week, the new assembly will elect its president, with Mr Flosse saying it will be Edouard Fritch who will take up the post. He says a day later, there will be a presidential election and once the result is made official the same night, he will name his ministers for them to take office on the 20th. The luxurious presidential palace, which he had built for himself, has long been empty and chickens have been wandering around on its unkempt lawn. For Mr Flosse's return, the premises are now being spruced up, but his new reign could be short-lived. In February, he was given a four-year suspended jail sentence and a 170,000 US dollar fine for being part of an illicitly funded system to advance the policies of his Tahoeraa dating back to the 1990s. The court also deprived him of his civic rights for three years, but the verdict is being appealed in France's highest court. A ruling is expected this year, but Tea Hirshon says he may still be lucky.
HIRSHON: Someone told me in the ancient Polynesian society there was a god for the thieves. And he was telling me, maybe it's still happening, you know? (Laughs)
Mr Flosse says there was no wrongdoing on his part because all the contracts he signed were approved by the French state. And he has said the flurry of court cases in recent years is the work of Nicolas Sarkozy, with whom he has had an uneasy relationship for about 20 years. His deputy, Edouard Fritch, says the judiciary is being instrumentalised to settle political scores.
FRITCH: Don't forget that since 1987, several politicians in this country...
Have been convicted?
FRITCH: Against Mr Flosse. That was the last means they had to fight him, to make him down, and they didn't succeed.
If he is forced to resign later this year, what will that mean for you?
FRITCH: I'm ready, you know? I'm ready If something arrived to Mr Flosse.
Are you expected to take over should he resign?
FRITCH: I wait since 1981, so I can wait again.
There has been virtually no reaction outside Tahiti to the election outcome. The French minister in charge of overseas territories, Victorian Lurel, has acknowledged the Tahoeraa victory, saying he has taken note of the result and called Mr Flosse. Paris says it will work with the democratically elected members.
To embed this content on your own webpage, cut and paste the following: