Archive: Tahiti: French first for Flosse


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By David Robie

Born a demi in the Mangarevian village of Rikitea in 1931, Gaston Flosse is the first Pacific Islander to become a minister in a French cabinet. Although it was widely rumoured in Tahiti that the newly created post of State Secretary in charge of South Pacific “problems” would go to Flosse, it wasn’t until Prime Minister Jacques Chirac named his cabinet three days after the [1986] Tahitian elections that it became public.

Flosse has a close friendship with both Chirac and Bernard Pons, who became Minister of Overseas Territories (in effect, the boss of Flosse).

Chirac and Pons visited New Caledonia and Tahiti last year [1985] on flag-waving tours to defend French control in the South Pacific.

Flosse’s French cabinet post may appear to independent countries to be in conflict with his duties as President of the Tahitian government. But he doesn’t think so, and neither does the Constitutional Council which gave a ruling in 1984 that the head of the Tahitian government could also be a deputy in the French National Assembly.

Flosse had been lobbying for some months to persuade Chirac that South Pacific policy should not be decided in Paris alone — 20,000 km away. He was the perfect man, Flosse argued, to represent France in the Pacific. He knew Tahiti and New Caledonia and was also known to independent Pacific leaders. He has a particularly close rapport with Sir Thomas Davis of the Cook Islands.

However, when he flew to Rarotonga last August [1985] in an attempt to win observer status for Tahiti at the South Pacific Forum, he was shut out. And although it was a perfect opportunity to build close contacts with English-speaking Pacific leaders, aides reported de wasn’t very interested. He especially missed his chance with Melanesian leaders. Flosse wanted the “red carpet” treatment and when he didn’t get it from the Forum, he almost flew back to Pape’ete in a huff.

Flosse’s new role is the latest move by both the incoming conservative French government and the outgoing socialist administration to reinforce France’s strategic and cultural presence in the South Pacific. Following the Kanaky crisis, l’affaire Greenpeace and the bitter attacks against continued French nuclear tests at Moruroa atoll, he will plunge into the deep end with some sensitive issues.

Flosse is a staunch defender of the presence of the nuclear Pacific Experiments Centre (CEP) in Polynesia, a stance that puts him in an ambiguous position in relation to Pacific nations over their opposition to the tests and the signing of the nuclear-free Rarotonga Treaty last year [1985].

He is also strongly opposed to indépendantiste movements in the French Pacific. But he is certainly likely to use the post as a platform to increase his bargaining power in attempts to gain Cook Islands-style self-government.

  • In 2022, French Polynesia’s 91-year-old former president and veteran politician, Gaston Flosse, was given a suspended prison sentence for producing a fake contract to register as a Pape’ete voter. The criminal court gave him a nine-month suspended sentence, an US$,000 fine, and declared him ineligible for public office for five years, dashing his hopes of standing in the 2023 territorial elections.

This is part 3 of six reports in David Robie’s nine-page cover story portfolio for Islands Business magazine covering the 1986 Tahitian elections. Oscar Temaru went on to become President of French Polynesia five times, the first instance in 2004. His party made a comeback in 2023 to decisively win the Territorial Assembly outright, with Moetai Brotherson as President and independence still the longterm goal.

Cafe Pacific Publisher
Cafe Pacific Publisher
Café Pacific's duty editor.
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