Cook Islands Court Confirms Mitiaro Seat Belongs To Demos

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Judge dismisses challenge to two voters’ eligibility

By Phillipa Webb

RAROTONGA, Cook Islands (Cook Islands News, Dec. 17, 2014) – Just when everyone thought it was all over, the future of the Government now rests on a by-election in Aitutaki.

However, Mitiaro is now in the hands of the Democratic Party.

At the High Court in Rarotonga yesterday, Judge Hugh Williams dismissed the two voter eligibility challenges made by Cook Islands Party counsel Tony Manarangi, ruling that there was no case to be heard.

This means that the recent recount on Mitiaro is valid, and Democratic Party candidate Tangata Vavia retains the Mitiaro seat.

Jubilant Democratic Party deputy leader William "Smiley" Heather declared Christmas had come early for the party.

Cheers from Democratic Party supporters also erupted in the Court Room after the judgement was read.

"We are very pleased about the outcome, and even with a looming by-election we are ready and confident," Heather said.

The need for another by-election in the Aitutaki seat of Vaipae-Tautu is the result of a long-awaited Court of Appeal judgement read by Judge Williams in Court yesterday.

Education Minister, Moana Ioane, who is in the Cook Islands Party, faced a petition and subsequent appeal from the Democratic Party's Kete Ioane.

Judge Williams said the Court of Appeal had declared Moana Ioane’s election victory void after it was found he had bribed one of the voters.

A by-election has now been ordered in the seat of Vaipae-Tautu. No date has yet been set for the by-election, but this close to Christmas, it is unlikely to be held until the New Year.

Five months have passed since July’s general election and there is still no definitive Government.

On election day, Tuakeu Tangatapoto of the Cook Islands Party and the island’s previous MP, Tangata Vavia of the Democratic Party each received 50 votes.

But Vavia lodged a petition with the High Court, claiming Tangatapoto committed acts of bribery and treating in the election run-up.

Before the petition could be heard in the High Court, the Demos signalled their intent to withdraw it. The Cook Islands Party then asked the court to follow through with their own petition.

Then the Cook Islands Party filed a court action to appeal the last-minute withdrawal and argued for the original petition to be heard.

Three weeks ago, judges David Williams, Sir Ian Barker and BJ Paterson decided that the appeal was allowed.

The Court’s ruling meant the Mitiaro election petition hearing had not been completed and it was sent back to the High Court for hearing.

Chief Justice Thomas Weston said one vote was deleted as the voter did not meet the qualification requirements.

He did not specify who the person had voted for. A recount was conducted on November 28, with Tangata Vavia receiving 50 votes and Tuakeu Tangatapoto 49.

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