It’s election season in the Pacific! Campaigning has begun in earnest in Fiji and Papua New Guinea, whilst results have been announced in the French Overseas Territories.
The build-up to Fiji and Papua New Guinea’s (PNG) national elections has begun, with both countries potentially heading to polls in the coming weeks. Fiji’s current Prime Minister (PM) Frank Bainimarama is facing a major challenge from Sitiveni Rabuka, who previously served as PM from 1992-1997. Whilst an election could occur anytime from 9 July, it may also be called as late as January next year as per Fiji’s electoral regulations.
Meanwhile, in PNG, the general election is scheduled to occur from 2 to 22 July, with the most likely contenders being current PM James Marape, or former leader Peter O’Neill. There are growing concerns from observers surrounding potential irregularities and misinformation affecting the PNG election, with fears more than a million people may be restricted from voting. Australia is amongst a host of countries invited by PNG to observe the election.
In other election news, all three of French Polynesia’s seats in France’s National Assembly have been won by the pro-independence, Tavini Huiraatira Party, whilst the current ruling Tapura Huiraatira party failed to win any. This marks the first time a pro-independence party has won in the territory. Moreover, one elected member, Tematai Le Gayic, is now the youngest parliamentarian in the history of the French Fifth Republic, at 21 years old. Le Gayic and his two fellow newly elected representatives will sit with the left-wing New Ecological and Social People’s Union coalition in the Assembly.
In New Caledonia, conversely, two anti-independence candidates from Emmanuel Macron’s Ensemble party were elected. Similarly, in Wallis and Futuna, Mikaele Seo from Ensemble has also won the Territory’s single seat.
In significant news for Pacific regionalism Australia, New Zealand, Japan, the United Kingdom, and the United States have announced a new initiative called Partners of the Blue Pacific (PBP). In a joint statement, the parties highlighted their priorities, noting the centrality of the Pacific Islands Forum (PIF), and committing to delivering results for the Pacific more effectively and efficiently, and expanding opportunities for cooperation between the Pacific and the world. According to some sources, any American involvement in the initiative will have an ‘undeniable security component’, including potential ship visits.
The announcement comes hot on the heels of Chinese Foreign Minister Wang Yi’s controversial attempt to meet virtually with 10 Pacific Foreign Ministers on 14 July – the same day as PIF’s upcoming leaders’ retreat in Suva. This is particularly significant as PIF leaders had previously announced the United States, China, and other dialogue partner countries would be excluded from the retreat in order to avoid ‘distraction’. PIF had indicated they might hold a separate dialogue partners meeting virtually during the week of the retreat, or in-person later this year.
In the North Pacific, the Marshall Islands have said they hope to conclude negotiations with the United States to renew their 50 year old Compact of Free Association by the end of 2022. A proposed memorandum of understanding is expected to be signed no later than 30 September, ensuring no disruption to current levels of American support for the Islands.
Tuvalu’s Foreign Minister Simon Kofe has remarkably pulled out of the United Nations’ Ocean Conference in Portugal in protest of China’s blocking of Taiwanese participation. Tuvalu is one of only four remaining Pacific countries to recognise Taiwan.
Finally, Solomon Islands and Vanuatu opened their international borders for the first time since March 2020 on 1 July. In Samoa however, national air carrier Samoa Airways has announced it has stopped long-haul international flights as the country prepares to open its international border later this year.
Accurate as of 12pm AEST Thursday, 30 June