PACIFIC ISLANDS REPORT
Pacific Islands Development Program/East-West Center
TEMARU TO SEEK RE-ELECTION IN TAHITI STALEMATE
PAPEETE, Tahiti (Tahitipresse, December 16) – To no one's surprise, Oscar Temaru, whose government was toppled Wednesday by a no confidence vote, will be seeking re-election Thursday, opposed by Bora Bora Mayor Gaston Tong Sang.
Although the filing deadline for candidates is midnight Saturday (Dec. 16), the only surprise would be if one or more other candidates should file for the election to be held in the French Polynesia Assembly four days before Christmas.
Tong Sang was the first to file, deposing his candidacy on Friday morning. Temaru followed suit early Friday evening.
There appears to be little speculation over whether there will be the necessary quorum of 35 of the Assembly 57 members present for this historic occasion. But if the necessary quorum is not met, Assembly Speaker Philip Schyle, a potential deciding factor in the election results, will be forced to reschedule the election for Dec. 26, when no quorum is required.
Although Schyle is pro-France, pro-autonomist, like the former opposition group of Assembly politicians backing Tong Sang, Schyle has not indicated how he and his only other party member in the Assembly, former Miss Tahiti Thilda Fuller, plan to vote on Thursday.
Schyle and Fuller voted for Wednesday's censure motion against the Temaru government. But Schyle is calling for a transition government to replace Temaru, the objective being new general elections for all 57 Assembly seats as quickly as possible early next year. The group backing Tong Sang has rejected that idea, preferring to have changes made in the electoral system for the scheduled next Assembly general elections in May 2009.
So if Schyle and Fuller submit blank votes, the Temaru candidacy appears to have the advantage with 28 seats vs. 27 for the Tong Sang candidacy.
However, hanging in the balance, as has been the case throughout the first two years and nearly six months of the five-year presidential mandate so far shared by two presidents is the crucial role of Assembly members from the other islands.
There are four such persons in particular. Two have recently crossed the aisle back to the former opposition camp, leaving the other two in question. However, the first two - J. Alain Frébault of the Marquesas Islands and Teina Maraeura of the Tuamotu Archipelago - left Tahiti immediately after Wednesday's censure vote for New Zealand.
They were joined by Michel Yip of the Tuamotu Archipelago, a third potential swing vote in Thursday's presidential election who was a Temaru cabinet minister during Wednesday's censure vote. Now Yip returns to his seat in the Assembly.
The fourth outer islanders, Temauri Foster, also from the Tuamotu Archipelago, remained in Tahiti to talk with both camps - the Temaru group and the Tong Sang group. Foster, originally elected as a member of the Flosse camp, switched over to the Temaru camp to become a cabinet minister.
What these four outer islander members of the Assembly all have in common is a strong tendency to end up on the side in power, regardless of how many times the power changes hands.
What makes this sometimes complicated is that if any of them end up becoming a government minister they are replaced in the Assembly by the N° 2 person on the original list of candidates for the May 2004 general elections. If the N° 2 person has remained faithful to the party list, this could cause a problem if the winner of the list becomes a minister in a government that the list did not support.
That was Foster's problem, which is why he had to resign his Temaru government ministerial post before Wednesday's censure vote in order to preserve an Assembly vote for Temaru by replacing a person who would have voted against Temaru.
So if Foster and Yip join Frébault and Maraeura in the Tong Sang camp Thursday, Tong Sang will end up with 29 votes and the two potential blank ballots from Schyle and Fuller will not be crucial to a victory.
But if Foster votes for Temaru, the result will be 28-27 in favor of Temaru, one short of a minimum absolute majority.
If Thursday's election ends in a tie or neither candidate receives 29 votes, a second vote will be held for the two candidates with the most votes. Since Temaru and Tong Sang are expected to be the only candidates, they would oppose each other again in the second round.
If the second round still fails to produce 29 votes for either candidate, the victory goes to the oldest candidate. That would be Temaru, who is 62. Tong Sang is 57. No French Polynesia president has ever been chosen on the basis of age.
The winner will have five days to name a new government, which does not require approval by the Assembly. So either Temaru's third government or Tong Sang's first government will take over by Dec. 26 if the vote is on Thursday, or by Dec. 31 if the vote is on Dec. 26.
The election will be historic because it marks the first time that a candidate, will try and become re-elected after having been twice ousted by a censure motion without having completed his original full five-year mandate.
Temaru was first elected to a five-year term as French Polynesia president on June 14, 2004 in the Assembly following the legislative body's general elections in May 23. He spent 118 days in office at the head of a majority coalition that included his Tavini Huiraatira (Independent Front for the Liberation of Polynesia) political party, Tahiti's biggest party seeking independence from France for this French overseas territory.
He was replaced on Oct. 22, 2004 by political archrival and veteran former Tahiti president, Gaston Flosse by a vote of 29-0, providing a minimum one-seat majority coalition. Flosse, 75, Tahiti's president from 1984-1987 and 1991-2004, remained in power for slightly more than four months before he was ousted on Feb. 18, 2005 by a 30-0 vote of no confidence following a Feb. 13 by-election for the 37 Windward Islands seats in the Assembly.
Temaru returned to power on March 3, 2005 by an Assembly vote of 29-26. His majority coalition lasted one year, nine months and 10 days until last Wednesday when he was ousted by a 29-0 vote of no confidence in the Assembly.
Tong Sang has been the mayor since 1989 of Bora Bora in the Leeward Islands, French Polynesia's most popular tourist destination. This is the second time he has been a candidate for Tahiti's president. He lost his first bid on March 3, 2005 by a vote of 26-29, losing to Temaru as a candidate for Flosse's party, Tahoeraa Huiraatira (People's 'ally for the Republic of Polynesia).
Due to his smaller physical size and the same first name as Flosse, Tong Sang is often referred to by one daily French language newspaper as "Gaston-Iti", while Flosse is called "Gaston-Nui". That's "Little Gaston" for Tong Sang and "Big Gaston" for Flosse. The nicknames stem from the Tahitian names for the Big Island of Tahiti (Tahiti-Nui) and its smaller peninsula, "Little Tahiti" (Tahiti-Iti).
As his last name indicates, Tong Sang is partly Chinese, which gives him something in common with Schyle, the Assembly speaker. Besides sharing pro-France, pro-autonomist political support, they are both mayors. Schyle is the mayor of the Papeete bedroom Commune of Arue.
Tong Sang's political career is not only longer, it is more complete. He was first elected to the Assembly in 1991. Since 1986, he has loyally served a Flosse government as a minister serving as the head of a variety of ministries.
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