Electoral reform must be driven by Cook Islanders

Monday May 19, 2014 Published in Letters to the Editor
Parliament of the Cook Islands. Parliament of the Cook Islands.

Dear Editor, I find Tim Arnold’s letter of Saturday May 17 simply insulting to Cook Islanders.

He achieved the same result in 2010 with his advertisements. As a self- appointed guru on everything, he wants glory at the centre of things without offering ideas on reform except his appointment coming first. Congratulating Bishop and other ministers on their move to gerrymander seat adjustments is worse than just toadying.

In his letter he seems to go along with the fundamentally corrupt idea that trimming a few artfully selected seats in the south without reform over the whole country is acceptable. The ideas must come first, not appointing Tim Arnold to draft legislation. That would give him control of the process.

Even those in the tiny electorates must recognise the basic unfairness of their vote being worth 10 or more times more than a vote in most of the Rarotonga electorates. The problem is well known and easy to state.

The difficult part is the answer, especially when the present party leaders are from those tiny electorates and outer island seat numbers outweigh those on Rarotonga. They have no incentive to do anything except tinker; perhaps in the hope (as with the CIP and Bishop) their tinkering will be mistaken for real reform.

In recent months several ideas for reform have appeared in your paper. They include the Avatiu-Palmerston example, which dates back to 1965, creating “national” seats to reduce the influence of political parties, combining small seats in the north and some in the south, (but reinforcing the role of island mayors in a national scheme) and adopting a maximum “number of voters per seat”.

Cook Islanders must be consulted right from the beginning. As they have their say, other ideas will emerge. It may be useful to set up a commission staffed by people independent of the Cook Islands (and New Zealand) to avoid obvious bias, and to suggest other methods. At the end of the day, all Cook Islanders must choose. The constitution requires a 2/3 majority to make changes. It seems to me a combination of “carrot and stick” must be involved to get agreement on constitutional change. At the end, when agreement is reached, we can hire a few lawyers to turn the agreement into legislation.

Mata-Atua McNair

Muri, Ngatangiia

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