“Government is back in business, all hands are on deck, and it is business as usual,” said Puna in a press conference held at his offices on Wednesday.
After receiving advice on the matter from Crown Law, Puna said there is no requirement for him to be sworn in for another term, and his government will be affirmed with full legislative powers in Parliament once petitions are deal by the courts.
“There is no need to go to the Queen’s Representative,” the PM said. “The law is quite clear.”
The same advice applies to his Cabinet members, said Puna, adding their pre-election ministerial warrants are still valid.
In accordance with Section 29 of the Cook Islands constitution, a sitting of Parliament must be held no later than 90 days after general elections, meaning MPs must gather for their first session by October 9.
Puna’s comments represent a turnaround from last week, when he said he would be looking to visit the Head of State “as soon as possible”.
The PM’s earlier comments fall in line with an account from a source, who said Puna will have to present himself to the Queen’s Representative – in this case the Chief Justice, as QR Tom Marsters is overseas - and declare, with evidence, that he has the command of the majority of Members of Parliament.
The source, who spoke on a condition of anonymity, said the ideal time for Puna to seek the Head of State’s affirmation of his role as PM would be once all petitions have been resolved.
In addition to the PM, the source said any elected MP currently has the option of visiting the Head of State to claim they have the support of at least 13 members of the House.
Puna – a former lawyer - refuted that theory, saying anyone claiming to command a majority of MPs would be stalled by anti-party-hopping legislation.
In the absence of any decision made by the Head of State, the source said the matter will then go to Parliament, where a vote will be made “indicating that such and such person commands the majority of Members of the House.”
A number of petitions currently before the High Court have the potential to alter the makeup of Parliament, and add an extra dose of drama to the nation’s political affairs.
As it stands the CIP has 13 seats compared to eight for the Democratic Party. Two seats are held by One Cook Islands – whose Leader, Teina Bishop, has recently been accused of attempting to lure recently-elected MP’s from the Cook Islands Party to his own camp.
“It could very well be that the next government is determined on the floor of the house,” quipped a political observer.