Friday, January 22, 2010

Circumventing democracy in the Cooks

Over the holidays, the Cook Islands have become embroiled in a political crisis. The sacking of an incompetant Minister caused a walkout from Cabinet, and the subsequent withdrawl of support for the government by the Democratic Party. The Cook Islands Party won't support them either. The Prime Minister now has the support of just 5 MPs in the 24-member House; when Parliament reconvenes, he will face a confidence vote, which he will lose. So, he has hit on a simple strategy: don't call Parliament:

The Cook Islands prime minister says he doesn’t plan on calling parliament for at least several months.

Jim Marurai is facing a vote of no confidence by the majority of MPs when parliament sits next and pressure has been on him to set a date for the next parliamentary sitting and for a snap election.

He says a parliamentary sitting will be needed on the budget, which doesn’t have to be passed until July the 1st so he’ll call parliament again when more MP’s support him.

“We’ll wait for about three months to find out if we can secure support for the calling of parliament.”

The logic is simple: no Parliament, no vote. No vote, no loss of office and perks. But the cost of this circumvention of democracy is enormous. The meta-rule of the Westminster system, summed up by Kenneth Keith in the NZ Cabinet Manual, is that
The Queen reigns, but the government rules, so long as it has the support of Parliament
The Cook Islands government clearly does not have the support of Parliament. The fact that there has not been a formal vote does not matter - the public statements of the party leaders are enough to call it into question. And in such circumstances, the government should be required to demonstrate confidence quickly or resign. Clinging to power by the artifice of refusing to call Parliament so they can't vote you out of office fundamentally undermines the deomcratic principle on which the Cooks' system of government stands - and the legitimacy of the government itself.