It’s brief, but it’s important to him, and it’s simply this: “Don’t panic.”
A cheerful and relaxed Heather took a few moments out from Puaikura’s Ui Ariki Day celebrations at Au Maru on Friday to outline why he believes the race to form a government is far from over.
His message follows hot on the heels of the Cook Island Party’s move late last week to swear in three MPs, ostensibly giving them the numbers to govern.
But with post-election petitions waiting to be processed by the court, the Demo Party still has a good chance of beating the CIP at their own game, says Heather.
A “surprise” move on Thursday afternoon saw One Cook Islands MP George Maggie and independents Rose Toki Brown and Robert Tapaitau sworn in by Queen’s Representative Tom Marsters, giving the caretaker government a narrow majority.
Heather said while the swearing-in had come as something of a shock, given that the Demos had been negotiating with the three MPs right up until the last moment, petitions lodged by the Democratic Party could still change the result of the June 14 elections, which left the Demos with a one-seat advantage.
“This is just the first round,” he said. “We still have four petitions in court and One Cook Islands has one.
“Two of our petitions have a very good chance of success and we will be actively campaigning regarding the outcome of the other two.
“So my advice to everyone is just sit back and relax, and don’t be alarmed (by Thursday’s events).
“I still rate our chance of success to become the new government as really good.”
Heather said the Demo Party’s negotiations with Brown and Tapaitau had been long and intense. The tension heightened when, at a late hour, the Demos learned that prime minister Henry Puna intended to appoint Tapaitau as deputy prime minister in place of Smiley Heather’s brother Teariki, who lost the Akaoa seat to Nooroa Baker in last month’s general election.
“On Wednesday we tried to renegotiate with Robert and we kept working through to the early hours of Thursday morning,” said Heather. “We tried to renegotiate with Rose Brown. We checked all the numbers again and again.
“We went back and forth with them three times on Thursday morning, and when we found they had decided to go with the CIP, it came as a big shock to us.
“We thought we had at least a 50-50 chance with them.”
Heather was coy as to the makeup of the Demo negotiating team, but CINews understands it included party leader Tina Browne, who had returned from a court hearing in London just a day or two earlier.
“It was a bad blow to us when they (Brown and Tapaitau) sat down and told us, ‘Sorry’,” Heather said.
“But it is important for me to tell our supporters – don’t panic.
“It’s not over yet.”
And it seems Heather has heeded own advice about the need to relax. On Saturday the ever-cheerful MP celebrated his 60th birthday on Aitutaki, after receiving a surprise holiday weekend gift from his children.
“They said to me, ‘After all that hard work with the election, you need to take a break’,” he said.
“I am really looking forward to it.”