24 May 2004

Voting underway in French Polynesia for enlarged territorial assembly

7:27 am on 24 May 2004

Voting has begun in French Polynesia to elect a new and enlarged territorial assembly.

It is the first election under a new autonomy statute approved by France earlier this year.

Walter Zweifel reports:

"Today's snap election was called last month only hours after the French President Jacques Chirac dissolved the assembly on a request from the territory's veteran leader, Gaston Flosse."

He wanted a new mandate after winning enhanced powers under the new autonomy statute which also accommodates a new electoral system,

This will give the largest party a bonus of a third of all seats, making Mr Flosse's Tahoeraa Huiraatira Party the favourite to win a crushing majority.

Opposition parties have failed to form a united list - which according the observers would have been the only hope of ending Mr Flosse's 20 year rule.

Polls will close at 8 tonight, local time.