2 Sep 2017

New Caledonia Forum participation in doubt

8:11 am on 2 September 2017

New Caledonia's participation at next week's Pacific Islands Forum is in doubt after yesterday's failure to elect a new government and president.

The President of the French overseas territory of New Caledonia, Philippe Germain, after being elected in April 2015.

The President of the French overseas territory of New Caledonia, Philippe Germain, after being elected in April 2015. Photo: AFP

This means that the election process - as prescribed under the Noumea Accord - is incomplete and the previous government with Philippe Germain as president remains in a caretaker capacity.

This restricts the government to managing basic current business, which some suggests excludes foreign relations.

The pro-independence camp says it doubts that Mr Germain can legitimately attend the Forum at which New Caledonia would - for the first time - be taking part as a full Forum member.

Earlier this week, the Congress formally voted to join the Forum after Forum leaders last year changed the accession criteria and admitted New Caledonia and French Polynesia as full members.

On Thursday, Mr Germain sought re-election but of the 11 government members only five of the six anti-independence ministers backed him.

The newly chosen minister of the Caledonian Republicans Christopher Gyges abstained in the vote, along with the five ministers of the pro-independence camp.

This setback has prompted Mr Germain's camp to accuse Mr Gyges of holding the territory hostage.

As a result of the impasse, the three new ministers elected on Thursday have to cede their places to the previous office holders.

However, only two are being returned because Philippe Dunoyer has taken up his seat in the French National Assembly.

New Caledonia's Budget Minister Philippe Dunoyer

New Caledonia's Budget Minister Philippe Dunoyer Photo: AFP

For him to take up the Paris seat, he had to resign his New Caledonian ministerial portfolio, and under the Noumea Accord a single minister's resignation automatically spells the end of the government.

It is now up to the French High Commissioner to call a new government meeting to choose a president.

There is a risk that New Caledonia could be left without a properly constituted government for weeks on end.

In 2015, rifts within the loyalist camp prevented the formation of a government for three months until the rival pro-independence side decided to break the deadlock by electing Mr Germain.

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