French Polynesia, Government
The foundation of French Polynesia’s present system of government was established in 1946, when French Polynesia became an overseas territory of France. At this time, the people of French Polynesia became citizens of France, and the territory established an elected territorial assembly to manage local affairs. In a 1958 referendum, French Polynesia chose to remain a French territory, subject to the French constitution, rather than become independent and lose French economic assistance. In 1977 the French government passed a statute that allowed for a greater degree of local autonomy in French Polynesia. Statutes passed in 1984, 1987, and 1990 gave increased autonomy to the territorial government in economic, social, and cultural affairs. A 1996 law gave the territory control over additional economic matters. The French government remains responsible for defense, foreign affairs, and justice in French Polynesia. The president of France is the head of state and is represented in French Polynesia by an appointed high commissioner. The territory elects two deputies to the French National Assembly and one representative to the French Senate.
French Polynesia’s territorial government manages most local affairs, including the regulation of fishing, mining, and shipping activities; communications and broadcasting; taxation; and education. It also manages the territory’s health care system, which is among the best in the Pacific Islands and is maintained largely through French financial assistance. Legislative duties are carried out by the single-chamber Territorial Assembly, whose 41 members are elected by French Polynesian voters every five years. The assembly elects a territorial president, who serves as head of the territorial government. The territorial president appoints a cabinet of ministers, subject to the assembly’s approval. All individuals age 18 or olderin French Polynesia are eligible to vote. French Polynesia is administered at the local level by 48 communes (municipalities), each with an elected mayor and council.
Judicial authority in French Polynesia is vested in the president of France. Both the structure of the judiciary and its personnel are part of the French judicial system. The territory has courts of various levels, including a high court and a court of appeals.
Politics in French Polynesia is somewhat fluid, and a wide range of opinion is represented. An issue of particular importance to residents is the territory’s level of political autonomy. Various political parties have formed to represent those individuals who support continued close relations with France, those who advocate political independence, and those who take positions in between. These parties are constantly changing both in number and degree of influence.