Oscar Manutahi Temaru is the current president of Tahiti Nui (French Polynesia), an overseas territory of the French Republic. He is the leader of the pro-independence party Tavini Huiraatira (People’s Servant Party) and the Union for Democracy coalition.
Temaru began his fifth and current term as president in 2011. He is a vocal supporter of French Polynesian independence, a nuclear-free Pacific, and the cultural revival of the Maohi (French Polynesian) people.
Why is he in the news?
Temaru frequently makes headlines campaigning for French Polynesia to be placed back on the United Nations’ list of non-self-governing territories. Previously, this policy had not found domestic traction due to fears that independence would trigger an economic decline once French subsidies were removed.
However, there are signs that public opinion is changing. The local assembly in 2011 supported the country’s re-inclusion on the UN list by a narrow vote, and French Polynesia’s largest Protestant denomination, Eglise Protestante Maohi (EPM), in August 2012 declared its support for Temaru’s campaign for independence.
There are two reasons for this shift. First, there is a growing hope that independence will force France to address the repercussions of almost 200 nuclear tests on the atolls of Mururoa and Fangataufa. Second, the 1998 Nouméa Accord, which promises gradual decolonization for New Caledonia, has been successfully implemented so far, giving the Maohi hope that a similar process may work in French Polynesia.
Temaru’s government has looked to other Pacific islands for support, but his call for French Polynesia to be added to the UN non-self-governing territories list fell flat during the August 27-31 Pacific Islands Forum due to opposition by Australia and New Zealand, which maintain strong ties to France.
What can we expect from him?
We can expect Oscar Temaru will continue his 35-year independence campaign at home and abroad ahead of the 2013 French Polynesian elections. In light of some heartening comments made October 11 by French president Francois Hollande about beginning a more equitable relationship with former colonies in Africa, there is a growing hope that the current relationship between France and Tahiti Nui can change too.
We can also expect Temaru to continue his campaigns to address the scars of French Polynesia’s nuclear legacy, and to support Maohi cultural revival through renaming streets, squares, and landmarks to honor local political figures.