Panuelo gears up for leadership transfer, candidates for FSM president named

(L-R) Aren B. Palik, David W. Panuelo, Kandhi A. Elieisar

After losing his bid for another term, Federated States of Micronesia (FSM) President David Panuelo has begun preparing for the leadership turnover to his successor, who will be elected by the 23rd FSM Congress on May 11. 

Based on unofficial results of the 07 March elections, four at-large senators from all four states are listed as eligible candidates for the presidency and vice presidency: Joseph Urusemal (Yap), Wesley W. Simina (Chuuk), Peter M. Christian (Pohnpei) and Aren B. Palik (Kosrae). 

They are the top vote-getters in the state elections for senators-at-large. 

Urusemal and Christian are both former presidents. Palik is the incumbent vice president while Simina is the current speaker of Congress. 

Panuelo will serve as at-large senator representing Pohnpei, where he received the lowest number of votes among the four candidates for the state’s four allotted seats. 

The conclusion of Panuelo’s term is marked by the completion of the FSM’s negotiation with the United States for the economic provisions of the Compact of Free Association, as well as the Pacific nation’s impending diplomatic split from China. 

In his recent letter to the FSM Congress, Panuelo blasted Beijing’s political warfare and announced his initiative to switch diplomatic ties to Taiwan. 

Whether or not the incoming administration will follow through with the diplomatic shift remains to be seen. 

The FSM, which has been torn between Washington and Beijing in recent years, is emerging as a component of the United States’ Indo-Pacific strategy. 

In preparation for the leadership transition, Panuelo has instructed the first batch of politically appointed Cabinet members to turn in their courtesy resignations. 

Acting Justice Secretary Leonito Bacalando Jr., Acting Foreign Affairs Deputy Secretary Brendy Carl, Acting Postmaster General Juliet Jimmy and Jackson T. Soram, the Charge’d’Affaires of the FSM Embassy in the U.S, are the first ones to step down. 

In mid-April, Panuelo will name another group of political appointees who will be asked to resign. The rest will be advised to step down in May. 

“Some of the political appointees will be asked to become consultants to assist the next administration when it assumes power on 11 May, and some will not be,” according to a press release from the Office of the President. 

“Panuelo is choosing to stagger the removal of Cabinet and other political appointees in the administration in waves so as to ensure that certain tasks are completed on schedule,” the statement said.