02 July 2014

French control of electoral system in French Polynesia/Ma'ohi Nui inconsistent with democratic governance

Hon. Richard, Ariihau TUHEIAVA
Statement to Special Committee on Decolonization
United Nations Headquarters
New York

"The unilateral authority exercised by the administering power...  is its absolute control of the electoral system at all levels of governance. This includes the authority to write and amend the electoral ordinances and the determination of voter eligibility, through to the confirmation of the results of elections including the authority to cancel the result of those elections for dubious reasons."  -- Senator Tuheiava

Senator Tuheiava addresses U.N. Decolonization Committee.
He is flanked by political leader Oscal Temaru.

Mr. Chairman, members of the United Nations Special Committee on Decolonization,

It is my honour to address the Special Committee on Decolonization in my capacity as an elected member of French Polynesia to the French Senate, and an elected member of the House of Assembly of French Polynesia from the Group “Union Pour La Démocratie” (U.P.L.D.) led by President Oscar Temaru who heads our delegation to this meeting. I join with President Temaru in extending the warmest regards to the members of the Special Committee from the people of Ma’ohi Nui/French Polynesia. 

Mr. Chairman, 

Ma’ohi Nui/French Polynesia is a non-self governing territory now under the purview of the United Nations decolonization process, pursuant to Chapter 11 of the Charter which highlights the responsibility of the administering powers to prepare the territories for full self-government consistent with international law. 

It is regrettable, however, that the administering power has failed to transmit information on our territory this year by virtue of its obligation under Article 73 (e) of the U.N. Charter. Indeed, the working paper prepared by the Secretariat of the Special Committee clearly indicates that the information contained in such document was obtained without the support and cooperation of the administering power.

During this year’s Pacific Regional Seminar on Decolonization held in Denarau, Nadi (Fiji) from 21 through 23 May, all participants of the plenary session might wish to remind that the administering power, however attending officially the event, has deliberately moved out from the meeting when the question of French Polynesia was considered, while publicly asserting, a few minutes ago, its contribution and cooperation in favour of the process of decolonization of New Caledonia.

United Front: Kanaky leader Roch Wamytan, together with Senator Tuheiava and political leader Temaru, address United Nations on decolonization of New Caledonia. 

As stated by me, therefore, the inclusion of the reference in the draft resolution to the failure by the administering Power to submit information on our territory is relevant and therefore appreciated.

Chilean diplomat José Antonio Cousiño (left) discusses decolonization issues 

with French Polynesia political leader Oscar Temaru (center) and Senator Tuheaiva. 

Mr. Chairman,

The unilateral authority exercised by the administering power on the non-self governing territory of Ma’ohi Nui/French Polynesia is its absolute control of the electoral system at all levels of governance. This includes the authority to write and amend the electoral ordinances and the determination of voter eligibility, through to the confirmation of the results of elections including the authority to cancel the result of those elections for dubious reasons. Such unilateral power to control, modify, influence and cancel the electoral process is hardly consistent with democracy. 

According to the independent "Assessment of Self-Governance Sufficiency" of 2013:

"There is indication of intervention in the electoral process including the use of restrictive systems of voting registration, the striking down of electoral lists seeking to participate in elections, and pressure from the administering Power on individual voters or candidates. Such intervention also includes the 'strategic' setting of electoral constituencies to favour specific political interests including the establishment of disparities in the number of votes required to elect an individual representative to the Assembly."

The 48 communes of French Polynesia, created by the administering power back in the 1950s’ and in 1971, are under legal, judicial and technical control of the administering Power (legal status, electoral system, competencies, standards of accountings, etc.). On the other hand, these communes are financially, hence politically, operating under strong influence of the local elected government of French Polynesia (fundings, tax system, etc.), by virtue of a complex mechanism created under colonial arrangement since 1996. My two colleagues within the French Senate in 2008, the Hon. Bernard FRIMAT and Christian COINTAT reported this context. 

However, since this diagnosis from its own Parliament, the administering Power remained indifferent to such issue, taking all the communes of French Polynesia as hostages financially speaking.

Imposed in 2008, the new General Code of the Territorial Collectivities adopted by the French Parliament was imposed to the communes of French Polynesia without prior consultation. Intended to provide a modern frame of governance to the metropolitan communes in France, such legislation has definitely generated governance issues since it was implemented in French Polynesia, 

Thus, any initiative from the Executive or Legislative branch of the administering power to restore a climate of good and self-governance of the 48 communes in French Polynesia should be highly encouraged.

The administering power’s interference within the non self-governing territory of French Polynesia also includes a system of ‘bonus seats’ intended to be awarded to those political parties which may favour political accommodation with the dependency status, and the inclusion in the electoral rolls of French police and military personnel.

In this regard, immigration policy remains under the control of the administering Power and it is the administering Power that unilaterally decides who can vote and who is eligible in French Polynesia, according to the colonial status quo.

As a matter of fact, there is open encouragement of French migration to the territory, which would dilute the electorate and insidiously maintain the pro-independence portion of the Ma’ohi people into insufficient number to democratically move towards such option of decolonization. But there is also the imbalance of resources available for electoral campaigning including access to electronic medias, and availability of marine and air transportations for electoral campaigning in the large number of outer islands. 

Such practices affect the good governance of the local elected government and the 48 communes alike, causing significant political instability due to strategic abuses of the French Electoral Code, as a matter of fact, especially when pro-independence candidates are successful at the polls. The status of the communes, in fact, are grossly out of legal proportion allowing for the administering Power to even cancel elections by unilateral interpretation of its own Electoral Code applicable in French Polynesia. 

This occurred recently in the commune of Hitiaa O Te Ra, including the four associate districts of Papenoo, Ti’arei, Maha’ena and Hitiaa, and also the commune of Western-Taiarapu, both located on the main island of Tahiti. As a matter of fact, the brutal resignation of a small portion of elected members of each associate district concerned was unilaterally interpreted by the administering Power as a motive to cancel the elections over the whole Commune, and to set up new elections. Such elections were held last week for the Commune of Hitiaa O Te Ra and are set up for early July for the Commune of Western-Taiarapu

Both precedents are clearly an ‘open-door’ to political instability at the level of the Communes of French Polynesia, as well as a violation of the basic tenants of democracy in our territory.

Any initiative from the administering Power, through its Executive or Legislative branch, to correct such deficiency of its electoral system applicable in French Polynesia must be encouraged, as a preliminary step towards genuine self-governance.

It is within this context that the utilization of the doctrine of ‘transfer of powers’ to remove such unilateral authority, as contained in the Decolonization Declaration of 1960, is clearly relevant if a process of self-determination is to be fair, and if the results are to be genuine. Therefore, the colonial status quo that rules the current electoral system in French Polynesia, unilaterally shaped by the administering Power to accommodate its colonial interests from a decolonization perspective, is inconsistent with a fair and genuine process of self-determination.

In conclusion, Mr. Chairman, we look forward to working with the Special Committee in this most important phase of implementation of the various elements of the decolonization mandate.

Former Danish West Indies commemorates abolition of slavery

The 166st anniversary of the abolition of slavery in the former Danish West Indies – the present day US Virgin Islands - is celebrated on 3rd July 2014. At the commemorative programme held at Fort Frederik in Frederiksted, St. Croix during the 161st anniversary in 2009, an address was delivered by International Governance Advisor Dr. Carlyle G. Corbin entitled "Political Evolution: The Next Phase of Emancipation." The issues raised in the 2009 presentation remain very much unresolved in 2014 as the dependency looks ahead to the year 2017 which would mark 100 years of U.S. unincorporated territorial status  Below are excerpts of the 2009 address along with a link to the full text.

(Read the full address here)

"... it is my firm belief that today, Emancipation Day, is our single most important holiday because it represents the successful struggle of the ancestors in abolishing the abominable system of slavery under the Kingdom of Denmark, beginning a long and arduous journey towards the pursuit – but not yet the attainment - of the civil, political and human rights of the people.

It is interesting that Emancipation Day in other parts of the Caribbean is often the most important holiday on the calendar. Our close neighbor, the British Virgin Islands, commemorates its emancipation on the first Monday in August (August Monday). In fact, the Emancipation Festival in the BVI, as in other British territories, is centered around Emancipation Day, with many activities dealing with cultural history and the struggle of African people who succeeded in defeating slavery under the British...


Denmark’s acknowledgment of the past has been encouraging. In a 2007 report submitted to the United Nations, Denmark acknowledged its role in “the barbarism of transatlantic slave trade (which) constitute(d) one of the darkest chapters of our history, in terms of its magnitude, its organized nature and particularly its negation of the human dignity of the victims. 

The Danish perspective, however, regards slavery as a legal institution at the time it was practiced, and as such, absolves them of any liability to this point. In any case, the Danes, too, should share in this July 3rd commemoration as well since our emancipation, and the cessation of that “crime against humanity,” was part of Danish political history and evolution, as well – even as emancipation was not one of benevolent enlightenment, but rather the result of the organized revolt by the enslaved Africans.

The fact is that we are a people who have a right to self-determination under international law - but we have never exercised that right. The Charter of the United Nations and the human rights conventions such as the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights, and the International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights confirm this right as inalienable. This is not based on United Nations resolutions whose effect is not legally binding – although they are certainly morally binding. These are international treaties which are, in fact, legally binding on the countries that enter into them.

Under this inalienable right of self-determination, we have the right to choose from a set of legitimate political status options which provide for absolute political equality. As a society, however, we seem to have internalized the dependent territorial status, and by doing so, we have given it a legitimacy which it does not necessarily warrant."