07 March 2011



By Patrick Antoine Decloitre

SUVA, Fiji (Oceania Flash)  – New Caledonia’s political crisis has intensified on Thursday with attempts to form a new government foiled by yet another resignation, automatically triggering the downfall of a minute-old executive.

Thursday’s meeting at the 54-seat Congress of New Caledonia was called with the sole item on the agenda being the election of a new government. But minutes after Congress elected its eleven members, outgoing President Philippe Gomès acted on threats made since the downfall of his government and announced his party, Calédonie Ensemble (Caledonia Together) resigned from the executive. Minutes after this, the French High Commissioner in New Caledonia, Albert Dupuy, called on the new government to elect a President and a Vice-President.

The new President elected on Thursday is the Congress speaker, also a former President of the government, Harold Martin, leader of the Avenir Ensemble Party. His Vice-President is Gilbert Tuyienon, from UC.
Both are now heading a de facto still born government.

Under the 1998 Nouméa Accord and the organic law that followed in 1999, if one government member resigns, all of the government is deemed to have resigned. In the organic law that oversees the operation and formation of the territorial government, an article (121) specifies that "when a government member ceases to hold his/her position, the next candidate on the (party) list on which he was elected becomes his/her replacement".

But the article further says that when those provisions "cannot be applied any longer, the government is deemed to have resigned and a new government shall be elected within fourteen days". Meanwhile, the outgoing government acts on a caretaker basis and can only "expedite current affairs".

Last month, the previous government led by pro-France Philippe Gomès, had found itself in the very same position after one of its components, pro-independence Union Calédionienne (UC) had chosen to opt out.

UC leader Charles Pidjot said last month the reason for his decision to have all three UC government members resign was linked to the sensitive issue of the French Pacific territory’s "double" flag, a decision to hoist both the French national "Blue-White-Red" and pro-independence FLNKS movement’s colourful banner. Pidjot said he had decided to pull his party (one major component of the FLNKS umbrella) out of the government because he disagreed with President Gomès’s outspoken stance against the joint flag concept. Gomès, instead, said his interpretation of a "common destiny" for New Caledonia, as stated in the 1998 Nouméa Accord, was that a single flag should be designed and agreed upon.

The joint flag concept was endorsed last year with the apparent blessing from French President Sarkozy and his Prime Minister François Fillon, who even travelled to New Caledonia to attend the first official joint flag raising ceremony.

After UC’s resignation last month, Gomès also accused one of the historic pro-French parties in New Caledonia, the Rassemblement-UMP, of colliding with UC to orchestrate the demise of his twenty-month-old government. Ever since, Gomès has publicly stated that he considered the electoral process had been hijacked and that he would do all in his power to trigger general elections to "give the people their voice back". His opponents, including UC and Rassemblement-UMP, have also since accused his of "crossing the red line" by trying to destabilise the local institution and therefore create ongoing political instability.

Speaking to local media after Thursday’s eventful Congress session, Gomès said it was still his intention to do exactly the same in two weeks, when Congress meets again to elect a new government. His apparent aim was to use the system in order to provoke a situation where authorities, including France, would have no other choice but to concede that New Caledonia’s institutions, namely its Congress and its government, were no longer in a position to function and that therefore fresh elections had to be called.

The French government, through its minister for overseas countries and territories Marie-Luce Penchard, said this week, while on an official visit in New Caledonia, that the present situation did not justify such a drastic move, for now. The situation could be further compounded in one month, when Martin will have to make a clear-cut choice between his position of Congress President/Speaker and his position of Government President.