Cook Islands PM Pushing Political Reform

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Puna proposing 1,000 voters per seat in Parliament

By Emmanuel Samoglou

RAROTONGA, Cook Islands (Cook Islands News, March 19, 2014)– Prime Minister Henry Puna and Education and Tourism Minister Teina Bishop recently travelled to a number of outer islands, where they pushed the government’s proposal for political reform.

A movement being led by Cabinet for political reform appears to be gathering speed after a series of trips to the outer islands by Prime Minister Henry Puna and Education and Tourism Minister Teina Bishop.

The two returned from Mangaia earlier this week after previously visiting Atiu and Aitutaki, said a government source, where they were attempting to garner support for their proposal for amending the structure of Cook Islands Parliament.

The proposal calls for the adoption of a suggested formula of 1000 voters per seat in Parliament, which would reduce representation in Aitutaki by one seat, Atiu by one seat, and Mangaia by two seats - with an overall reduction in the number of seats to 20.

A five-page Constitutional amendment including the recommended changes has also been drafted. A majority of two-thirds – equal to 16 votes in Parliament – is required to change the Constitution and legally implement the proposals.

This most recent re-surfacing of the issue of political reform appears to have begun in December when Bishop – a Member of Parliament in Aitutaki – presented a memorandum on the subject to Cabinet which included the proposal’s details.

"...Cabinet would be naive to think that political reform will not become a matter of general public interest and debate over the next 12 months," reads the memorandum. "The activities of special interest groups and independent candidates will certainly bring this issue to the fore.

"As Cabinet is aware, there are political risks in pursuing political reform. When seats are abolished, or promises made to do so, that is sometimes not popular in the electorate."

Bishop’s memorandum appears prophetic in hindsight with last week’s announcement by local businesswoman and community organiser Teina Mackenzie, who kicked off her campaign to run for MP in Ngatangiia in the upcoming 2014 general elections.

Mackenzie is the co-founder of the Mou Piri Group for Political Reform, which pushed for change in the lead-up to the 2010 national vote.

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