On February 18, Tahiti's semi-autonomous parliament passed a no confidence motion in President Gaston Flosse, toppling his government. The parliament is due to meet again on February 23 to elect a new president, likely to be fiery pro-independence activist Oscar Temaru.
The change in government follows a sweeping victory for independence forces in a February 13 by-election in France's "overseas territory".
The by-election is the latest stage in a fierce battle between the pro-independence forces and Flosse, the personal friend of French President Jacques Chirac who has governed the territory for 16 out of the last 20 years.
In the May general election last year, Temaru was elected president in a major upset for Paris and Flosse. However, after just four months, Flosse managed to convince a member of Temaru's coalition to switch sides, overthrowing Temaru's government with a motion of no confidence.
Complaining about coloured curtains in polling booths, Flosse was also able to convince Tahiti's courts to nullify the May election results in Tahiti's biggest electorate, the Windward Islands, which elects 37 of Tahiti's 57 parliament seats.
However, in the by-election, Temaru's Union for Democracy (UPLD) party increased its majority. Under a controversial electoral law, the party with the most votes wins the first 13 seats, with the rest allocated proportionally. Hence, with 47% of the vote, UPLD took 25 seats, while Flosse's party, People's Rally, won 10 seats with 40% of the vote. The remaining two seats were won by the Alliance for a New Democracy (ADN), which opposes independence but is hostile to Flosse. ADN's vote was significantly reduced in the election.
The election leaves UPLD and People's Rally tied on 27 seats each, with ADN holding the remaining three. Despite promises to resign if Temaru won the by-election, Flosse refused to leave office, hoping for ADN support.
For a few days, ADN leaders Nicole Bouteau and Philip Schyle refused to publicly support either Temaru or Flosse. However, the no confidence motion was passed with the votes of all 30 assembly members present, who were all ADN and UPLD parliamentarians. No People's Rally members attended the session.
France's minister for overseas territories, Brigitte Girardin, who strongly backed Flosse last year, expressed concern on February 15 that the results will "cause instability". In contrast, France's Socialist Party has welcomed the results as a clear signal that Tahiti's people "want change".
Temaru told New Zealand Radio on February 14: "I hope the French government has understood since last year that the population of French Polynesia wanted to change, and it's greatly time to change."
From Green Left Weekly, February 23, 2005.
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