PIF crumbles as five nations walk out over snub of Micronesian nominee

Five island nations are officially withdrawing from the Pacific Islands Forum amid growing resentment over the organization's reneging on a "gentlemen's agreement" to rotate leadership appointment among member countries.

The Federated States of Micronesia, Palau, Marshall Islands, Nauru and Kiribati, have jointly agreed to initiate the formal process of withdrawal from the Forum during a virtual convening of the Micronesian Presidents Summit Monday.

The move stemmed from the appointment of Cook Islands former Prime Minister Henry Puna as secretary general of the Forum last week. He will officially take the Forum's helm in April, succeeding Dame Meg Taylor, a lawyer and diplomat from Papua New Guinea.

Micronesian countries have argued that the post should have gone to their candidate, Marshall Islands' diplomat Gerald Zackios.

Palau President Surnagel Whipps Jr. said the Forum cannot have a functional regional organization "that just completely disregards a third of its membership."

In an interview with Radio Australia last week, FSM President David Panuelo said Micronesian countries expected Zackios' appointment based on an unwritten “gentleman's agreement” that the role be rotated by sub-region and it was Micronesia's turn.

"I think this has been the way it was selected in the past or in some of the past selections of the Secretary General post, and so Gerald [Zackios] is a very qualified individual," Panuelo said.