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Oscar Temaru's Tavini Huiraatira party wins round one of French Polynesia's territorial elections

For the first time, the Tavini came first in several large towns in Tahiti and dominated in Moorea. Photo: Tahiti Infos / Antoine Samoyeau

French Polynesia's pro-independence Tavini Huiraatira party has come out on top in the first round of the territorial elections.

The party led by Oscar Temaru won almost 35 percent of the votes, beating the ruling Tapura Huiraatira party of Edouard Fritch, which obtained 30 percent.

The recently formed A Here Ia Porinetia was the only other party to clear the 12.5 percent threshold to make it to the run-off round in two weeks.

The other four lists are eliminated, including Amuitahiraa O Te Nunaa Maohi, which is the renamed Tahoeraa Huiraatira party founded by the veteran politician Gaston Flosse.

For the first time, the Tavini came first in several large towns in Tahiti and dominated in Moorea.

With 35 percent of the votes, it substantially improved its first-round result from the elections in 2018 when it won 20 percent.

The results show a sharp drop in support for the Tapura, which in the first round in 2018 won 43 percent of the votes.

The Tahoeraa, which then won 29 percent, plummeted to less than 12 percent and will no longer be in the assembly.

The party had dominated French Polynesian politics for decades but was gradually weakened by internal rifts after Flosse was forced to relinquish power over corruption convictions in 2014.

Expulsions and defections led to the formation of a slew of new parties, most notably the Tapura.

Observers said the Tavini gains this year could in part be attributed to its campaign to repeal a recently adopted additional tax.

They also said there was displeasure with the government's response to the pandemic.

Last year, Fritch and the former vice-president Tearii Alpha were both been fined for flouting Covid-19 rules they put in place.

Alpha, who was the vice-president at the time, invited 300 people, including all cabinet members, to his wedding at the height of restrictions.

The leaders' inconsistency prompted the resignation of the tourism minister Nicole Bouteau who formed a new party together with a former vice-president Teva Rohfritsch.

While they failed to get their party to the second round, another former vice-president Nuihau Laurey led the A Here Ia Porinetia to win enough votes to contest the runoff round.

In a reaction on election night, Fritch said he still believed most voters preferred autonomy over independence.

Also on election night, Tavini's Tematai Le Gayic said the territorial elections were not to be viewed as some sort of independence referendum.

Observers said Tavini might get the support of those who voted for eliminated parties opposed to Tapura and retake power.

In what was a surprise last year, the Tavini candidates beat the Tapura candidates to win all three of French Polynesia's seats in the French National Assembly.

Fritch described that outcome as catastrophic, given the dominance of the Tapura in the territorial assembly.

A Here Ia Porinetia also hopes to get support from voters of the eliminated lists.

Laurey and party founder Nicole Sanquer have been campaigning for a renewal of the territory's leadership.

The party proposed a maximum of two terms for elected officials to prevent people entering office for life.

In the second round, on April 30, the list winning most votes will get a third of all seats as a bonus, which assures it securing an absolute majority.

The remaining two thirds of the seats will then be distributed according to the lists' relative strength.

The system was reintroduced by France in 2011 after nearly a decade of political instability.

In 2018, the Tapura won less than half of the votes but because of the bonus clause it obtained two thirds of the 57 seats.

While Fritch has said he will seek re-election as president in May, Tavini's Oscar Temaru will not contest the top job despite heading the Tavini list.

The party has said it will nominate as its candidate Moetai Brotherson, who is a member of both the French Polynesian Assembly and the French National Assembly.

avini Huiraatira party's Oscar Temaru will not contest the top job despite heading the Tavini list Photo: RNZ / Johnny Blades

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