Polynesia: who Moetai Brotherson, the new president of French Polynesia?

The separatist Moetai Brotherson was elected Friday president of French Polynesia, by the representatives of the local embly. He was chosen by the 38 separatist representatives of the embly, elected in the territorial elections of April 30.

In a Territorial embly of 57 seats, where the separatists thus have a strong majority, the representatives also granted 16 votes to the outgoing autonomist president Édouard Fritch, and 3 to another autonomist candidate, Nicole Sanquer.

MP and ex-rugby player

Between Tahiti and Paris, for more than five years he has been a pleasant deputy, in a flowery shirt: Moetai Brotherson is a resolute separatist but who gives himself time.

Both arms adorned with traditional tattoos, this 53-year-old former rugby pillar had made an impression in 2017 by introducing to the National embly, quietly, the “lavalava” – traditional loincloth, never seen at the Palais-Bourbon.

Previously, from 2011 to 2013, he had successfully participated in the fight for the inclusion of Polynesia on the UN list of territories where “the decolonization process is not yet complete”.

Now, his clear electoral victory could put his independence camp in a position of strength against the French state to negotiate a referendum on self-determination of the territory formed by five archipelagos, the size of Europe, 17,000 km from Paris.

A consensual personality

His program and his more consensual personality than the historical frameworks of his movement allowed Moetai Brotherson, positioned on the left, to seduce part of the autonomist electorate, majority and up to now standing against his party.

“Independence will never be imposed, it will be a choice that the Polynesians will make, or will not make, at the end of a process of self-determination”, he ured Tahiti Nui Television in March. “Honestly, I don’t think we can envisage a referendum for ten or fifteen years, but everything will depend on the discussions with the State”, he then declared.

For some opponents, he would have presented himself as a moderate to apply, once elected, the radical program of his father-in-law Oscar Temaru, 78, who presided over French Polynesia several times but without a stable majority.

“Oscar will continue his policy against France at the UN, Moetai seems to want something else. Who is the liar? They won by lying to the population, ”said the former strongman of the community, Gaston Flosse, 91, allied to outgoing president Édouard Fritch.

“Separatist since the age of 11”

Reputed to be always even-tempered, Moetai Brotherson – a fan of martial arts, beekeeping or the game of go – appears connected to nature and accessible to all, as during his daily morning walks. He, who grew up in the Iles-du-Vent archipelago and then in the Iles-sous-le-vent, calls himself “independence since the age of 11”.

In a podcast broadcast in 2020 by Outremer La Première, he recounted his childhood in Tahiti with his adoptive parents – truck driver father, stay-at-home mother – then in Huahine with his biological parents, nurse and teacher: “Often Polynesians have children quite young (…) and entrust their newborn to a grandmother, an aunt, an uncle. In my case, it was my grandmother’s little sister.

A wonderful early childhood, “totally free” by the sea in Tahiti, with “simple” people who did not speak French but Tahitian, he said. Then years on a more isolated island, Huahine, devouring books, developing a pion for school and deep independence convictions.

“There are hundreds of peoples on the planet, most of them independent, and why not us? (…) What happened before this blue white red flag landed here? “, asked the child when “the governor” arrived and the students lined up had to sing the Marseillaise, he said.

Computer scientist in the United States before returning to Tahiti

Became a student in a computer engineering school in the Paris region, faced with the question “where do you come from? », he erts himself as a Polynesian, then works as a computer scientist in mainland France and in the United States, before returning to Tahiti.

It was not until 2004 that he became involved in local politics, when the independence party, Tavini Huiraatira, founded by Oscar Temaru, first came to power. This party’s candidate for the 2017 legislative elections, he became the first deputy to come from it, re-elected in 2022.

As a member of the communist group “Democratic and Republican Left – Nupes”, he will have expressed firm opposition to the government, on the nuclear issue or on pension reform.

Father of five children, already a grandfather, Moetai Brotherson is married for the second time to Teua Temaru, daughter of Oscar Temaru, and former Minister of the Environment in the Polynesian government of Gaston Flosse.

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