17 May 2004

Tight contest expected in vote for New Caledonia's presidency

7:21 am on 17 May 2004

A tight vote is expected when New Caledonia's Congress vote to pick a president.

The Congress reflects the makeup of the regional assemblies, with the two main parties, Rassemblement and Future Together, each holding 16 seats.

A vote is due to take place on Friday, with a territorial government to be chosen soon afterwards.

It comes after three leaders of the regional assemblies were elected.

Paul Neaoutyine was returned as the leader of the territory's Northern Province, and Neko Nhepeune was elected as the leader of the Loyalty Islands' presidency.

Mr Neaoutyine, was first elected in the north in 1999, and is a key figure in the independence movement, as well as one of the chief architects of the Noumea Accord.

Philippe Gomes replaced Jacques Lafleur, the founder of the Rassemblement party, as president of the powerful southern province.

Mr Gomes represents the party, Future Together, with its members drawn from dissidents in the Rassemblement party and others.