Papua New Guinea’s former prime minister Peter O’Neill and other regional figures have lamented the failure to reach consensus at the latest Pacific Islands Forum meeting.

This comes as Micronesian leaders this week announced their intention to withdraw their five countries from the premier regional body, after their candidate wasn’t selected for the organisation’s top job.

The presidents of Nauru, the Federated States of Micronesia, Kiribati, Marshall Islands and Palau said that South Pacific countries dishonoured a “gentleman’s agreement” to rotate the post evenly among sub-regions, and that it was Micronesia’s turn.

When leaders of Forum countries were unable to reach consensus over the appointment over who to appoint as Secretary-General at last week’s online summit, the matter went to a vote.

The vote was by secret ballot, which went the way of the former Cook Islands prime minister Henry Puna who pipped the Marshall Islands diplomat Gerald Zackios by 9 votes to 8.

“The normal practice is that the role of Secretary-General is by rotation with the three regions of the Pacific, that is Melanesia, Micronesia and Polynesia,” said O’Neill, a veteran of numerous Forum leaders summits.
“Leaders who are new to that tradition need to learn to appreciate and respect this for the sake of solidarity and unity within the Pacific.”

However it’s not the first time that the Forum top job was decided by a vote: in 2002 the Australian Greg Urwin was appointed after the matter was put to a vote. The sub-regional rotation theory was not applied then either.
But O’Neill said that taking votes was never something that was encouraged at the Forum Leaders level.

“We always want to reach consensus decisions the Pacific way through compromise,” he said.

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