Political shift in Polynesia as pro-autonomy president asks France to call referendum on self-determination

Request comes four days after the country was re-inscribed into the UN list of non self-governing territories · Flosse will ask Hollande to call the vote · Pro-autonomy leader believes that a clear "no" majority will bury demands for independence

Polynesia is facing a rapidly changing political scenario after the president of this autonomous territory of France, Gaston Flosse (left image), yesterday asked the French government to call "as soon as possible" a referendum on self-determination. According to Tahiti Infos, Flosse wants to "remove this recurring problem from the local political life" so that his government can focus on "essential issues" such as "the country's development and a way out of the crisis".

Flosse's announcement came as a surprise, only four days after the UN General Assembly passed a resolution that re-inscribes Polynesia into the UN list of non self-governing territories. Polynesia had been deleted from the list in 1947, but the former Polynesian president, Oscar Temaru, asked the re-inscription of the country into it. A group of Pacific countries brought the proposal to the UN, and it was finally accepted.

Overcoming a "blatant interference" by the UN

The request by Flosse differs from the approach by the French ministry of Foreign Affairs. The Quay d'Orsay said last Friday that the UN had fallen into a "blatant interference" on French and Polynesian affairs.

But Flosse feels that it is better to anticipate any future problem. The pro-autonomy president -who has recently won the Polynesian election with a strong majority- considers that independence would be largely rejected in a referendum. This strategy is aimed at burying the self-determination issue in the French Pacific islands.

Polynesian newspaper La Dépêche de Tahiti last year released an opinion poll according to which 64.5% islanders would oppose independence if a referendum was called, while 27.7% would support it.

In any case, only the French president, François Hollande, has the power to call a referendum on this issue. Nevertheless, Flosse wants the Polynesian Assembly to pass an official petition so that the vote can be held.

Who should be allowed to vote?

Yesterday we reported that pro-independence former president Oscar Temaru wanted to limit eligibility to vote in the referendum. According to his proposal, French newcomers to Polynesia should not be allowed to participate.

Flosse, on the contrary, believes every single citizen of Polynesia should have voting rights. According to him, there should be no discrimination on the grounds of origin or length of residence.