Election day is Wednesday, but many are predicting that it could be weeks before the country knows who is to govern for the next four years. This is because electoral petitions are almost a certainty, given some seats could have slender majorities, as was the case in 2010.
This included the Penrhyn seat of Opposition Leader Wilkie Rasmussen where he led Independent Willie John by only two votes. This time, John is standing under the Cook Islands Party banner.
Recent by-elections have favoured the Democratic Party, with the latest earlier this year seeing James Beer finally victorious in the Murienua seat – albeit with a very slender majority after an electoral petition found a bribery allegation to be unproven.
Prime Minister Henry Puna has been in the news regularly over the New Zealand pearl aid debacle leading up to the campaign period, but whether or not this will impact on his standing with Manihiki voters remains to be seen.
If either Puna or Rasmussen fails to get elected, both parties will be looking at who to give the top job to. Normally Deputy Prime Minister Teariki Heather could expect to get the nod for CIP, but he too has been the subject of much controversy over the past year.
With calls from numerous letter writers and other commentators, perhaps this could be the year when either party’s finance spokespeople could be considered for elevation, subject to them being returned. CIP’s Mark Brown should be returned comfortably, but as previously observed, the Demos’ James Beer is in the House by the skin of his teeth.
There has been a lot of comment about how “dirty” the current election campaign has been, with church and traditional leaders this week calling on voters to focus on electing the best person for the job and not necessarily to continue to vote on “party lines”.
The winning party will have to secure at least 14 seats in the House to be in a position to supply the Speaker of the House and have a one-seat majority. However, it has lost two of the 16 MPs it had on election night 2010 – Teina Bishop and George Maggie, who have formed the One Cook Islands "movement". Both are expected to be returned but, as they have already stated they would support the Government on motions of supply, they can expect to be wooed by both major parties in the event of a hung Parliament.
There are only two independents standing this year, one of them being Teina Mackenzie, who is facing the CIP’s Atatoa Herman in Ngatangiia. He was elected with a majority of 43 in 2010. Interestingly, another independent, Terepai Moate, fell only 20 votes short of passing the Demo candidate Mann Short in 2010, so a bit of tactical voting could see her sneak through.
The other independent candidate is Teava Iro standing for Titikaveka Oire Incorporated in the Titikaveka seat.
Tomorrow CINews will bring readers a head-to-head comparison between CIP and Demo policies on the top budget items – health, education, tourism, economy and depopulation – so that voters can make up their minds on which party they want to vote for.
Given the closeness of some of the contests, even one vote can make a difference – it effectively becomes two votes by denying the other party a vote. But for those who can’t decide who they should vote for they should still go to the polling booth and cast an invalid vote. This will send a clear message to all candidates that you didn’t consider them, or their party, worth voting for and you will have fulfilled your constitutional duty.