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CIP hold on govt seen as ‘fragile’

Saturday September 22, 2018 Written by Published in Politics
MP Albert Nicholas pictured at his swearing-in back in May 2015. 18092124 MP Albert Nicholas pictured at his swearing-in back in May 2015. 18092124

The Cook Islands’ political situation is fragile and the government could change at any time, says an experienced political commentator.

Speaking to CINews on condition of anonymity, the source says the government could change within months or even weeks.

The possibilities are said to range from the CIP replacing prime minister Henry Puna with Finance minister Mark Brown, to the formation of a new coalition government which would be achieved by several MPs crossing the floor.

At the centre of the uncertainty surrounding the government’s future is the fate of dumped Internal Affairs minister Albert Nicholas, who has been suffering serious health issues, the source says.

At the swearing in of Mac Mokoroa as the new Internal Affairs minister on Wednesday, Puna told Queen’s Representative Tom Marsters that it had become necessary for him to terminate the appointment of “a minister” for personal reasons.

Clearly referring to Avatiu-Ruatonga-Palmerston (RAPPA) MP Nicholas, Puna said: “He has been unable to discharge his responsibilities of the high office of minister and it has become necessary for us to terminate the appointment and appoint a new minister in his place.”

Before this year’s general election in June, Nicholas spent some weeks in an Auckland, New Zealand hospital suffering from what was said to be a serious blood infection that had started with a centipede bite. He had been a patient at Rarotonga Hospital for some time before that.

Nicholas, who has been absent in New Zealand since the release of the judgements on the electoral petitions, is still an MP in the CIP government. Under current regulations an MP may be replaced if he misses 14 consecutive days of a parliamentary sitting.

On Thursday, prime minister Henry Puna said he was expecting Nicholas back on the island sometime this weekend.

If the government decided Nicholas couldn’t continue as an MP, there would be a by-election, which Demo candidate Teina Rongo could have a good chance of winning, the source says.

Combined with MPs crossing the floor, this could also trigger a change of government.

Yet another possible scenario is that as a result of losing his Cabinet post, Nicholas might “walk”, However the CIP numbers might then be made up by another “vaka-jumper” from the Demo Party, the source adds.

 

In June, Nicholas was in hospital in New Zealand and only met the deadline for returning to the island to contest the general election by a few days. 

While he was away, Nicholas left his government car parked at the airport. However, the government still did its best to conceal Nicholas’ absence, continuing to report in CINews’ weekly Cabinet Diary that the minister was on the island.

In recent weeks the “coconut wireless” has been rife with rumours of CIP MPs being enticed by the Demos to cross the floor and the source says it is only the party’s leadership issues that has prevented them from being successful.

Earlier this week yet another source with inside knowledge of the political scene claimed Aitutaki MP Junior Maoate had replaced Tina Browne as Demo Party leader. However, this has since been denied by Demo officials.

Meanwhile, a CIP spokesman, who also declined to be named, claimed on Thursday that the government was actually stable.

“Government is very stable now, especially with Mac (Mokoroa) as a Cabinet minister. Added some glue to his shoe. And a leadership change will happen when the PM determines it.

“It's the CIP way.”           

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