By David RobieAUCKLAND — When French Polynesia's 41-seat Territorial Assembly met on April 5 to decide the South Pacific territory's new president for five years, the choice marked a remarkable political comeback.
Gaston Flosse, the part-Tahitian who, as France's controversial pacific affairs secretary, fell from grace in Polynesia in the wake of corruption allegations and rioting in Papeete during 1987, had the numbers to regain office.
Two previous parliamentary sessions since the March 17 election failed to resolve the leadership issue, but this time a challenge by the pro-independence campaigner Oscar Temaru was unable to stave off the inevitable.
Present Tahitian politics are very fluid, if not volatile, and the governing coalition could collapse even quicker than the last one headed by the 57-year-old Flosse.
Although Flosse's party, Tahoeraa Huiraatira (People's Rally), won 18 seats after a high-spending election campaign, it was not enough to govern outright. Flosse has been negotiating to form a coalition government with the centrist party Aia Api (New Country), led by maverick part-Tahitian Emile Vernaudon, which won five seats.
The conservative Tahoeraa is affiliated to the French Gaullist Rally for the Republic party led by former prime minister Jacques Chirac.
Flosse won the presidency with 25 votes, 18 from his own party and seven representing Aia Api and two independents. Twelve opposition Polynesian Union members walked out before the vote.
"Our priority is to sort out the territory's finances, which are in a mess", said Flosse. He promised to introduce a balanced budget early in May, adding that it was difficult to forecast his strategy until he knew the true financial state of the territory.
But the success of Flosse is far from the "triumph" proclaimed by the French press. The news media have generally interpreted the election result as demonstrating the Polynesian people are strongly in favour of French rule and nuclear bomb tests at Moruroa and Fangataufa atolls.
In fact, Tahoeraa Huiraatira gained less than 27,000 votes, or barely 31 per cent of the ballots cast, to win its 18 seats. The losing Polynesian Union, headed by outgoing president Alexandre Leontieff and popular Papeete Mayor Jean Juvetin, gained the same percentage but won only 10 seats.
The Polynesian Union had headed the coalition government since the collapse the collapse of the Flosse administration after the riots by jobless youth in November 1987, but had suffered from lack of credibility and unity since then. In 1986, Flosse's party had won 22 seats outright, and three independent assemblymen joined his majority until Leontieff led a breakaway by 10 rebels. Another factor in Flosse's electoral recovery was that about half of those who voted for his party were French civilian experts, government officials, soldiers, sailors and bomb technicians living in Tahiti, who are allowed to participate in local elections.
Ironically, the day after the election, the Appeals Court in Paris partially cleared Flosse on corruption charges. It declared there was insufficient evidence to uphold charges filed in September 1989 that Flosse had used public funds to build a road to his private property at Erima-Arue.
Flosse had already been cleared of two other corruption charges on 26 November 1990. However, Judge Albert Moatty ruled that Flosse must face fraud charges over another property he owns in Paea. He is alleged to have used public funds to upgrade the property in 1986.
A feature of the election was the success of Temaru's Tavini Huiraatira in doubling its vote and winning four seats. But the rival pro-independence party, Ia Mana Te Nunaa (Power to the People), was dealt a bitter blow, losing all three seats it held in the outgoing assembly.
After leading a dramatic swing among pro-independence and anti-nuclear Tahitians in the and early 1980s, Ia Mana faltered after it joined the government. Thousands of supporters, apparently considering Ia Mana had sold out, defected to Tavini Huiraatira, which proclaims a "no-compromise" independence policy.
"Ia Mana lost its popularity because it formed an alliance with Leontieff, who is in favour of the existing colonial system and has never criticised the nuclear tests", said Tahiti commentator and historian Bengt Danielsson, co-author of Poisoned Reign, a noted book about French nuclear colonialism.