Pro-independence forces won elections on France’s Pacific territory of French Polynesia, giving them control of affairs on the archipelagos for the next five years and opening the way to a possible referendum on their status, according to results published Monday.
The Tavini huiraatira party headed by the overseas territory’s former head Oscar Temaru won 44.3 percent of votes in the second round of polls Sunday and will have an absolute majority in the regional assembly.
It is now expected to nominate Moetai Brotherson, 53, to lead the regional government.
The result will allow the pro-independence forces to seek to push the French authorities to negotiate a referendum on the status of the territory located well to the northeast of New Zealand and with a population of some 280,000.
“We are not going to be independent tomorrow or next week,” Brotherson told television channel TNTV. “I have no problem working with the (French) state and that will not change tomorrow.”
French Interior Minister Gerald Darmanin, who is responsible for the overseas territories, said Polynesians “voted for change” and the French government recognised their “democratic choice”.
But the result is a blow to the government of President Emmanuel Macron as it seeks to project France as a major power in the Pacific region due to its strategic overseas territories.
France has always refused a referendum on the status of French Polynesia. Independence has been repeatedly rejected in referendums on its other major Pacific territory of New Caledonia.
This is the first time the pro-independence forces will govern French Polynesia with an absolute majority, having on previous occasions been forced into fragile alliances.
French Polynesia is one of several French overseas territories that span the Caribbean and the Pacific and give Paris a global footprint unmatched by any other European nation.
The Polynesia vote came as controversy continues over an operation on the French Indian Ocean island of Mayotte to clear slums and stem illegal immigration.