A new old president for Polynesia

The second round of French Polynesia’s territorial election on Sunday produced very much the expected result. The three parties that had met the 12.5% threshold in the first round shared out the vote in pretty much the same proportions they had a fortnight earlier: Tahoeraa Huiraatira on 45.1%, the Union for Democracy 29.3% and A Ti’a Porinetia 25.6%. (Official results here.)

In recent years, that sort of three-way split has led to chronic instability, as shifting alliances among the three parties brought first one and then another to the top. But a new electoral system has put paid to that: a third of the seats are reserved as a bonus for the party coming first, so Tahoeraa Huiraatira won 38 seats to just eleven and eight for its two rivals. (My report on the first round explains some of the background.)

So Tahoeraa Huiraatira’s leader, the 81-year-old Gaston Flosse, will become the territory’s president for the fifth time. But his term could be cut short – not by a hostile assembly this time, but by disqualification. In February he was given a four-year suspended prison sentence for corruption; the verdict is being appealed to the Court of Cassation in Paris, but if it is upheld he will be ineligible to hold office and will be replaced by another MP from his party.

Even if Flosse wins the appeal, he may not be out of legal trouble; there are other cases in the pipeline. Socialist MP René Dosière, an expert in public finance, called Flosse “the most corrupt man in the Republic.”

But voters were evidently looking for stability and an experienced hand on the tiller, although Polynesia’s troubles probably have more to do with the global financial crisis than with its recent political instability. As Oscar Temaru, leader of the pro-independence Union for Democracy, put it, “We have been living in this country with France’s financial support and [with] the international recession, economic recession it was a very hard decision to manage this country. And the opposition has hammered on that.”

In other words, “better the devil you know.” Regardless of how Flosse’s legal issues play out, it looks as if independence for Polynesia is very much on the back burner.

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