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New Zealand helped create Pacific Forum split – now trying to play healer

New Zealand plans to console Micronesian nations that are finally threatening en masse to leave the Pacific Islands Forum in solidarity.

But it comes after the Aotearoa and Australian governments had been suspected of voting against the interest to install a Marshall Islands candidate to secretary-general to represent the Micronesian bloc of nations.

The leaders of the Federated States of Micronesia, Kiribati, Marshall Islands, Nauru and Palau have been up in arms throughout the year over alleging that Polynesian and Melanesian forum members had broken a promise.

The furore that centres on the smallest of the Pacific sub-regions of about 330,000 people rose after a secret ballot was held behind closed doors that favoured Polynesian Henry Puna, a Cook Islander, instead of just confirming the appointment of Micronesian Gerald Zackios.

Micronesia's PIF agreement
Then Micronesian leaders David Panuelo (Federated States of Micronesia), Taneti Maamau (Kiribati), Tommy Remengesau (Palau), Hilda Heine (Marshall Islands) and Lionel Aingimea (Nauru) were all smiles in 2019 when they agreed to approve Marshall Islands nomination Gerald Zackios to become the next secretary-general of the Pacific Islands Forum. Picture: Facebook, Federated States of Micronesia government

Both the votes of the two largest members of the forum swung the ballot nine votes to eight against the Marshall Islander.

The office of the Australian foreign minister, Marise Payne, has declined repeated requests from The Pacific Advocate to clarify the government’s position and to refute claims that Australia instigated the secret ballot.

A handshake agreement had always previously been accepted that the secretary-general is rotated among the three sub-regions about every six years since the role was created.

The split among the alliance of Pacific nations has coincided with China continuing to exert and grow its influence further throughout the region.

New Zealand foreign minister Nanaia Mahuta said the government would put their arms around the Micronesians although the nation of Palau had months earlier announced it had already decided to leave.

However, months earlier the Paluans had indicated they had already made up their mind and would go out on their own.

But Ms Mahuta has also not denied allegations that have emanated from the Marshall Islands that New Zealand did vote against Mr Zackios to swing the vote by one.

“There are significant and substantial issues facing the region where a united voice is the best approach to advocate on behalf of the whole of the Pacific – and that still remains, including New Zealand,” Ms Mahuta said at a press conference.

“We are working very hard to try and find a way through so that the Micronesian states can have confidence the PIF (Pacific Islands Forum) is for everybody.”

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The forum members have been divided on the position for some time after both Polynesian and Melanesian nations nominated rival candidates.

Ms Mahuta said that talks between sub-region and other voting blocs have been unable to reach a consensus, calling the intention to leave the forum “regrettable” at the time.

But in calming the sensitivities over direction of the forum, she believed the positives of being a part of the same Pacific far outweighs the negatives.

“There are a great many more opportunities for those who choose to invest in the Pacific, align with the Pacific values, the Pacific Way, to ensure their economic, social, cultural survival, but also the way they see themselves developing,” Ms Mahuta said.

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