US embassy cable - 05PARIS1613

FRENCH POLYNESIA: NEW PRESIDENT, UNCERTAIN FUTURE

Identifier: 05PARIS1613
Wikileaks: View 05PARIS1613 at Wikileaks.org
Origin: Embassy Paris
Created: 2005-03-10 17:52:00
Classification: CONFIDENTIAL
Tags: PGOV PNAT FR FP XV
Redacted: This cable was not redacted by Wikileaks.
This record is a partial extract of the original cable. The full text of the original cable is not available.

C O N F I D E N T I A L SECTION 01 OF 02 PARIS 001613 
 
SIPDIS 
 
E.O. 12958: DECL: 03/09/2015 
TAGS: PGOV, PNAT, FR, FP, XV 
SUBJECT: FRENCH POLYNESIA: NEW PRESIDENT, UNCERTAIN FUTURE 
 
REF: 04 PARIS 7928 
 
Classified By: Political Minister-Counselor Josiah Rosenblatt, reasons 
1.4 (b) and (d). 
 
1.  (SBU) Summary: Following relatively smooth by-elections 
on February 13, the Polynesian National Assembly elected 
pro-independence candidate Oscar Temaru president of French 
Polynesia on March 3 by a vote of 29 to 26 (with two ballots 
left blank).  Temaru's election brings to a close more than 
10 months of political wrangling on the pacific archipelago; 
however, his slim parliamentary majority leaves open the 
possibility for further instability.  Temaru's election to 
the post for the second time in less than a year has profound 
impact on the future of French Polynesia.  The ousting of 
close Chirac ally (and UMP Senator) Gaston Flosse, who ruled 
the islands for 19 of the previous 22 years, will likely be 
portrayed by the opposition -- perhaps optimistically -- as a 
blow to Chirac's leadership in Paris.  End summary. 
 
Infighting over Presidency of Islands' Assembly 
--------------------------------------------- -- 
2.  (C) The political turmoil in French Polynesia began with 
the surprise upset of longtime president Gaston Flosse in 
parliamentary elections held in May 2004.  Oscar Temaru 
became president of French Polynesia for the first time in 
June, but several parliamentary defections led to his ouster 
in an October no confidence vote and the re-election of 
Flosse.  While some of those who crossed the aisle to join 
Gaston Flosse's coalition did so because of poor leadership 
by Temaru's inexperienced government, Australian diplomats 
tell us in confidence that there may be credence to the rumor 
that one defector was bought off by Flosse.  Competing 
pro-Temaru and pro-Flosse protests broke out in the islands 
in October and November as dueling motions were ruled upon by 
the Paris-based Conseil d'Etat, the highest court for 
administrative affairs (see reftel).  Ultimately, the censure 
vote was upheld, as was a prior motion to annul the elections 
in the Windward Islands, which resulted in a ruling to hold 
the February by-elections. 
 
Feb. 13 Elections and Eventual Election of Temaru as President 
--------------------------------------------- ----------------- 
3.  (U) The run up to the by-election saw heavy campaigning 
by both Temaru and Flosse, as well as the emergence of a 
third party led by former Flosse supporter Nicole Bouteau, 
who pitched herself as the alternative to the corruption of 
Flosse and the calls for independence from France favored by 
many in Temaru's coalition.  The February 13 elections 
proceeded well, despite fears of unrest and large 
demonstrations by both parties.  The transparency of the 
elections and high participation rate (estimated at 80 
percent) left little opportunity for appeal of the results. 
Of the 37 seats up for vote, Temaru's coalition took the 
majority (24), followed by Flosse's party (10) and Bouteau's 
centrists (3); however, when added to those Parliamentarians 
already sitting, the result was a divisive 27-27-3 stalemate 
in the 57-seat French Polynesia National Assembly.  Flosse 
backed down from his pre-election pledge to resign if he did 
not outright win the by-elections, but was formally removed 
in a censure vote.  The defection of one member each from 
both Flosse's and Bouteau's parties gave Temaru's coalition a 
29-26 majority in the regional parliament, and Temaru was 
officially elected president on March 3 over Gaston Tong 
Sang, who represented Flosse's party.  Bouteau and her 
centrist ally Philip Schyle honored their pledge to support 
neither faction and cast blank ballots. 
 
Comment 
------- 
4.   (C) This second defeat within the last year would seem 
to spell the end of the 73 year-old Flosse's political 
career.  However, there are those in the MFA and Overseas 
Department that feel the Elysee has not done enough to urge 
Flosse to move on in the best interest of those in the 
islands and the mainland who wish to keep ties between 
Papeete and Paris strong.  With Temaru's slight majority in 
parliament (including one member who has switched sides three 
times in the last year) and relative lack of experience, some 
have speculated that Chirac may be encouraging Flosse to 
patiently await an eventual dissolution of the current 
government.  Temaru was surprised by his victory last year 
and clearly unprepared at that time to govern; his ability to 
learn from previous mistakes and include centrists in his 
government may determine whether or not he will be able to 
avoid this outcome.  To his credit, Temaru did not play the 
divisive independence card in campaigning and has tempered 
his rhetoric since the election, insisting "independence is 
not on the agenda."  Many believe that the Socialists, eager 
to exploit any chink in Chirac's armor with the French 
presidential elections two years away, will lend support to 
Temaru.  Perhaps also seeking to capitalize on Chirac's 
perceived loss, UMP President Nicolas Sarkozy notably did not 
travel to Papeete for the election to back Flosse, a senator 
in the party he leads.  End comment. 
Leach 

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