Democratic Party Opposition leader Terepai Maoate says the party, now with 11 seats, was always confident that the Court of Appeal would uphold Cook Islands electoral laws. Cook Islands Party candidate Toka Hagai lost the seat after the Court of Appeal found that he had treated voters to free food and drinks at his election rally before the general election.
“This is the second time a CIP candidate has been found to have acted outside of our electoral laws. Our laws are there for a good reason, to ensure that elections are held fairly, transparently and properly.”
Maoate says it was improper of Deputy Prime Minister Mark Brown to state that the Court of Appeal decision was “unfair and undemocratic”. “He should demonstrate more respect for our three learned judges and the decision they came to. Electoral laws are there to make sure candidates and political parties don’t cheat and don’t try to abuse the system.”
“If anything”, Maoate added, “it was the CIP that acted unfairly and undemocratically during the campaign period in Rakahanga by trying to persuade people to vote for Toka Hagai by providing free food and drink.”
Maoate says if candidates don’t follow the electoral laws, they can expect repercussions as in the Rakahanga case. “For Mark Brown to turn around and say the Court of Appeal has been unfair and undemocratic is ridiculous, the CIP have paid the price for cheating and maybe they have finally learnt a lesson, since this is the second time it’s happened.”
Following the 2014 general elections, the CIP Vaipae-Tautu candidate Mona Ioane was found to be guilty of electoral bribery and the matter was referred to Police to investigate. Cook Islands News reported that in December 2015, Police Commissioner Maara Tetava then referred the investigation to Crown Law for a legal opinion. “That was three years ago and since then the entire matter has stalled, no information forthcoming on what progress has been made and what the Crown Law opinion was, if the agency actually formed one,” says Maoate.
“I am urging the Chief Electoral Officer to refer the Rakahanga case to Police for investigation. I am urging Police to investigate thoroughly and make public what findings they come up with. There must not be a repeat of the Mona Ioane case which was just shoved under the carpet rather than being dealt with transparently.”
Maoate says he wanted to congratulate Tina Browne on her steadfastness during a trying time and being declared the rightful winner of the Rakahanga seat. “We look forward to welcoming Tina to Parliament and seeing her take her rightful place. She brings a wealth of legal knowledge and experience and her presence in Parliament will be outstanding, not just for the Opposition, but for the entire country. Tina will serve well.”
“I also wanted to thank and congratulate our Court of Appeal for upholding the country’s laws and delivering a just decision.”