Cook Islands Democratic Party Leader Steps Down

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Rasmussen, who lost reelection bid, makes way for successor

By Phillipa Webb

RAROTONGA, Cook Islands (Cook Islands News, April 9, 2015) – Wilkie Rasmussen has stepped down as the leader of the Democratic Party, leaving the path clear for a new leader to be chosen at their national conference next week.

Rasmussen told CINews yesterday afternoon that he had tendered his verbal resignation to the central executive committee of the Democratic Party as leader of the party.

"I had indicated to the Leader of the Opposition, William Heather Jnr, several months ago and to close friends that once the Vaipae Tautu by-election was over, I would stand down from being leader of the Democratic Party," Rasmussen said.

A lawyer, Rasmussen said he had planned to resign much earlier when he lost his electoral appeal after losing the seat of Penrhyn in the July General Election last year.

Rasmussen had argued voters ordinarily resident in Australia should not vote in the Cook Islands even after they had been in the country for the three-month qualifying period.

"But the Mitiaro petition and aborted by-election in that constituency and the Vaipae Tautu by-election were essentially a continuity of the July General Election."

Now the election has come to an end, Rasmussen said it was the right time to step aside and let the party choose ‘new leadership and for them to forge ahead with the plans and objectives of the Democratic Party’.

"It is also the right time to stand down as the Democratic Party is going into conference next Tuesday. I want the conference to be successful and a time for the Democratic Party to consolidate and look at best options for it."

Rasmussen was elected leader of the opposition and Democratic Party after former leader Robert Wigmore passed away in 2012.

"It has not been an easy job, but I believe I fought hard to raise the profile of the Democratic Party and to put it into a very competitive position before the 2014 elections," said Rasmussen.

"My job was to get the Democratic Party into government and it came very close and could still win over the Government, given the closeness in the seat numbers between the Cook Islands Party, Democratic Party and One Cook Islands."

Rasmussen said he had received ‘a lot of unfair and unsubstantiated criticism’ from some quarters and the motivations for such attacks were far too complex to explain.

"But I hold my head high and defiant of them. To me their politics was personal and charged with the view that Government may reward them for their efforts."

"I have also taken up a good fight to the Prime Minister and his team and I hope my successor will be able to do the same."

Referring to the recent ‘party-hopping’ incident when Demo MP Albert Nicholas became a Minister in the CIP government, Rasmussen said he hoped politicians would respect the laws they subscribed to when they were elected.

But now, Rasmussen is looking forward to a life away from politics, focusing on building his legal practice on Rarotonga, fishing, freelance writing, and enjoying life with his family.

"I hope that my political legacy is about honesty, integrity and standing up for the rights of those that you represent.’’

"I bow my head in respect of my supporters in Penrhyn who stood with me since I won the seat there in 2002 and did not waiver until 2014 when I lost the seat in what I describe as ‘extraordinary’ circumstances."

Democratic Party general secretary Eddie Drollet said the party would make a statement about Rasmussen’s resignation at the national conference on Tuesday.

As Leader of the Opposition, William ‘Smiley’ Heather would address the conference until a new leader was elected at the meeting, he said.

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