The Pacific Islands Forum had threatened to be shattered by the outcome of a tumultuous leadership election in February (PIF).
With Micronesian governments “temporarily” rescinding their departure, the collapse of a vital Pacific diplomatic body appears to have been averted at the last minute.
Micronesian nations set a one-year deadline to complete the process after being disappointed by the outcome of the election for the forum’s top office.
The president of the Federated States of Micronesia stated the action had been postponed just days before they were set to formally leave the bloc over the appointment of the PIF’s next secretary-general.
“The leaders… have agreed to temporarily reverse their resignation from the Pacific Islands Forum, having considered certain substantive reforms of the Pacific Islands Forum and its leadership, and on the basis of consensus,” David Panuelo stated in a brief statement.
It’s still unclear what exactly those reforms were. Polynesia, Melanesia, and Micronesia are the three regional groups that make up the Pacific Islands region.
The Micronesian states in the PIF – Palau, Nauru, Kiribati, the Marshall Islands, and the Federated States of Micronesia — have protested about being relegated to the organization’s periphery on several occasions.
The difficulties came to a head in early February when former Cook Islands Prime Minister Henry Puna was elected as the new secretary-general of PIF by a single vote (9–8).
He had defeated Gerald Zackios of the Marshall Islands, who had been backed by five Micronesian nations.
The outcome was painfully disappointing for Micronesian leaders, who had claimed that under a “gentleman’s agreement,” it was their turn to choose a new secretary-general.
Micronesian authorities have earlier stated that if Mr Zackios did not succeed, they would exit the PIF. Palau was the first to act after Mr Puna’s victory, declaring its withdrawal from the body and the closure of its embassy in Fiji.
“Maybe our Pacific brothers did not understand how serious we were,” he said.
“There is a simple way to change things. You can ask our brother Puna to withdraw.
“That’s a solution. That’s a very simple solution to me.”
Surangel Whipps, the President of Palau, told the ABC at the time that Polynesian and Melanesian countries had “split” the Pacific by refusing to make way for Mr Zackios.
“The most important element for any organization is trust and honesty, and it’s difficult to bring people together when you’ve lost that,” he said.
Mr Whipps stated that the countries of the South Pacific would have to persuade Mr Puna to make way for Mr Zackios.
While more information about the reasons for the suspension of the withdrawal is still unknown, Mr Whipps stated at the time that there was a method to persuade the Micronesians to return to the PIF.