Last Updated: Thursday, 30 October 2014, 11:04 GMT

State of the World's Minorities 2006 - French dependencies

Publisher Minority Rights Group International
Publication Date 22 December 2005
Cite as Minority Rights Group International, State of the World's Minorities 2006 - French dependencies, 22 December 2005, available at: http://www.refworld.org/docid/48abdd83c.html [accessed 30 October 2014]
DisclaimerThis is not a UNHCR publication. UNHCR is not responsible for, nor does it necessarily endorse, its content. Any views expressed are solely those of the author or publisher and do not necessarily reflect those of UNHCR, the United Nations or its Member States.

Major changes are under way in the three French dependencies in the Pacific: New Caledonia, French Polynesia, and Wallis and Futuna. Key politicians aligned with French President Jacques Chirac's Union pour un Mouvement Populaire (UMP), have been defeated in elections over the last year. In French Polynesia, the Tahoeraa party of Chirac's close ally Gaston Flosse has twice been defeated in elections for Tahiti's local assembly in May 2004 and by-elections in February 2005. Flosse lost power to a coalition led by independence leader Oscar Temaru.

In New Caledonia, the anti-independence strongman Jacques Lafleur has resigned from Congress and lost the presidency of his party Rassemblement UMP, after the party lost power in May 2004 elections. Leaders of the Kanak independence movement Front de Libération Nationale Kanak et Socialiste – which has the support of the minority indigenous population – were elected to a multi-party government alongside their former opponents. For the first time in the Oceania region, two women are heading a government: President Marie-Noelle Themereau of the anti-independence party Avenir Ensemble and Vice-President Dewe Gorode, an Kanak independence activist, writer and poet from the Party of Kanak Liberation. French authorities in Wallis and Futuna are also in dispute with the Lavelua (King) of Wallis, 86-year-old Tomasi Kulimoetoke, who came to power in 1959 (two years before Wallis and Futuna adopted its statute as an overseas territory of France).

Lafleur and Flosse were two key pillars of French policy in the region – both had been in power for over two decades. Their defeat was a setback to the programme outlined by President Chirac when he toured New Caledonia and French Polynesia in July 2003. At the 2004 Pacific Islands Forum, French Polynesia was given observer status, but it was President Temaru and not French ally Gaston Flosse who addressed the assembled leaders of the independent nations of the Pacific. Temaru lobbied for French Polynesia to be re-listed with the UN Special Committee on Decolonization.

In June 2004, France's Overseas Minister Brigitte Girardin stated: 'Thanks to its territories, France is a Pacific nation. Thanks to France, Europe is present here too.' As French citizens, Kanaks, Tahitians and Wallisians all carry an European Union passport and can vote in elections for the European Parliament, even though they're 20,000 miles away. However, voter turn-out for European Parliamentary elections is often very low in the Pacific – in June 2004, voter turn-out was only 25.4 per cent of voters in New Caledonia, 43.07 per cent in Wallis and Futuna, and 39.85 per cent in French Polynesia. Increasingly, most New Caledonians and French Polynesians see their future as part of the Pacific region, with increasing ties to the trade, cultural and social life of the great ocean. In September 2004, thousands of Kanaks gathered in New Caledonia's capital to erect the Mwâ Kâ, a 12-metre high, 3-tonne carved wooden totem to symbolize unity of the Kanak nation and a common destiny for all inhabitants of the French territory.

But independence will not come tomorrow. Under the 1998 Noumea Accord, New Caledonia will only vote on independence after 2014. In Tahiti, President Temaru has stressed that his victory was a vote to change the government – not a referendum on independence. With a narrow majority in parliament, a public service filled with Flosse appointees and a coalition government, Temaru says it will be at least a decade before independence comes.

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