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Conservative beats out independence seeker to become president of French Polynesia

Conservative beats out independence seeker to become president of French Polynesia

Gaston Tong Sang, a politician aligned with France's conservative ruling party, was elected president of French Polynesia over an independence-minded rival by the territory's parliamentary assembly.
Tong Sang, the mayor of Bora Bora, was elected Tuesday by a vote of 31 to 26. He beat out independence-seeking Oscar Temaru, who was ousted by a vote of no confidence earlier this month.
French Polynesia's new leader is the fifth president in less than three years in the Pacific archipelago, which has flip-flopped between Temaru and politicians close to the UMP, French President Jacques Chirac's party.
The territory of 121 islands and 240,000 people already has autonomy from France, and Tong Sang believes continued autonomy _ not independence _ is the best solution. Following the vote, he has five days to put together a local government.
An engineer, 57-year-old Tong Sang is a member of the Tahoeraa Huiraatira party founded by Gaston Flosse, longtime leader of French Polynesia. Tong Sang has often been a member of Flosse's governments, and the question now is whether he can emerge from under Flosse's shadow. Tong Sang is nicknamed "Little Gaston," while Flosse is called "Gaston the Great."
In another complication for Tong Sang's political future, he was charged last year in a corruption case. As former minister for land affairs, Tong Sang was accused of allowing a pearl farmer _ a friend of Flosse's _ to purchase an atoll for about euro7 million (US$9.2 million). Months later, the land was valued at five times that sum. Flosse is also being investigated.
Until recent years, politics in French Polynesia were largely stable. Flosse, who is close to Chirac, held the presidency for most of the 20-year period from 1984 to 2004.
The political calm of the Flosse era was shattered when Temaru's party unexpectedly dominated elections in 2004. Temaru was later ousted in a no-confidence vote and replaced by Flosse _ who lost a no-confidence motion himself in February 2005, returning power to Temaru.
Temaru, who founded a pro-independence party in 1977, has often criticized France, saying it has "colonialist policies." Opponents accused him of stoking social tension and worrying investors.
The latest no-confidence vote against Temaru was launched this month. A vote on a new leader was originally scheduled for Dec. 21, but parliamentarians failed to reach a quorum, and the vote was postponed until Tuesday.


Updated : 2021-02-27 01:55 GMT+08:00