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Poll: Cook Islanders still say ‘yes’ to reform

Friday June 15, 2018 Written by Published in Politics

Cook Islanders have sent a strong message to the next government, with 63 per cent of the country calling for reform in CINews’ 2018 election poll.


CINews believes the last time a similar survey was carried out was in 2010, when there was a referendum asking if there should be a reduction in the number of Members of Parliament. A total of 59.2 per cent of voters said yes, 33.4 per cent opposed a change, and 7.4 per cent were unsure at the time.

This time around, respondents were asked if they thought there was a need for political reform in the Cook Islands. Of those questioned, 63 per cent said yes, 13 per cent said no, and 24 per cent were unsure.

The poll shows that there is an increased desire for some form of political reform in the Cook Islands when compared to the results from 2010. However, 63 per cent of the voting population would still not be enough for a referendum to be binding on parliament, as a majority of 75 per cent is required.

A commission of inquiry into political reform in the Cook Islands was carried out in 1998. It was conducted by Iaveta Short, Professor Ron Crocombe, and John Herrmann. Their subsequent report stated 13 recommendations should be given priority. However, the abolition of the overseas-based seat in parliament, the reduction of the parliamentary term from five years to four years, and changes to the parliamentary superannuation scheme were the only recommendations adopted.

One Cook Islands (OCI) leader Teina Bishop says if his party is elected to government, their first priority will be to reintroduce the Constitution Amendment Bill (No 29), which will reduce the number of seats in Parliament from 24 to 20.

“I want people to know that our focus is on the voting population of each constituency, not the general population,” says Bishop.

“Three representatives for one island with a small voting population is not fair. It is not fair for democracy.”

The Democratic Party (Demos) say they have “a number of provisions in their manifesto to support political reform in the Cook Islands”.

“The party is willing to give consideration for an Electoral Commission to be formed, its functions and responsibilities similar to that of the New Zealand Electoral Commission, with the ultimate aim of advancing fairer representation in the Cook Islands electoral processes.”

“We will examine voting systems that more fairly translates people’s votes into parliamentary representation and examine the concept of fixed election dates permitting political stability and fairer preparation for all parties or candidates to elections.”

The CIP says the 1998 report on political reform and subsequent reports are “very outdated”.  “There is a need to go back to our people to ask what form of governance they are keen to consider, so we will give the political reform question back to our people. Not to political parties, but to the people.”

However, these promises of inquiries and “taking the issue of reform back to the people” are nothing new to Cook Islanders.

“In 20 years of discussing political reform, no-one ever seems to get beyond the thought of cutting some constituencies out and reducing seats,” said the writer of a letter to the editor of CINews earlier this year.

“What is needed is genuine action, with concrete steps in place that will ensure the voice of the people is heard. The first question to ask is what exactly are we wanting to reform? Be it the number of seats in parliament, the electoral system, or the system of governance as a whole - the people of the Cook Islands must realise the power lies with them.”

“It is a decision for them to make, not a political party or a single politician. Hold meetings, start a petition, ask for a binding referendum, and campaign on the issues of reform that you find important.”