2 Sep 2017

New Caledonia caretaker government to attend Forum

12:31 pm on 2 September 2017
The President of New Caledonia, Philippe Germain.

Philippe Germain will represent New Caledonia's caretaker government at the Pacific Islands Forum summit next week. Photo: RNZI / Koroi Hawkins

New Caledonia will take part in next week's Pacific Islands Forum with a caretaker government representing it.

This comes despite concern by pro-independence politicians that the caretaker president Philippe Germain lacks the authority to engage officially.

The issue has arisen after Thursday's failure to elect a new government and president.

After Congress elected a new 11-member executive the ministers failed to elect a president.

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.

When Mr Germain sought re-election, 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.

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.