Sunday, January 10, 2010

Snap election in the Cooks?

It looks like the Cook Islands are heading for a snap election. Just before christmas, Prime Minister Jim Marurai sacked his deputy and finance minister, Terepai Maoate, over his handling of a failed deal to buy a fuel tank farm in the islands. The sacking prompted the resignation of most of Marurai's Cabinet and the withdrawal of support for Marurai's government by the Cook Islands Democratic Party. And now it looks like the rival Cook Islands Party is also refusing to support Marurai - leaving him with the backing of just five MPs in the 24-seat Parliament.

Unfortunately, Parliament is not in session at the moment, meaning that the loss of confidence has not been formally made clear. But it will reconvene at the beginning of February. When it does, there will almost certainly be a no-confidence motion, which the Prime Minister will lose. It is likely that the Democratic Party will then have the numbers to vote in a new Prime Minister for the remaining 8 months of the Parliamentary term.

Assuming they are allowed to. Unlike New Zealand, the Cooks do not have a constitutional presumption that mid-term changes of power should be allowed to proceed. Last time this happened, in 2006, the current Prime Minister responded to a loss of confidence (bought on by the loss of several by-elections which left the opposition with a clear majority to govern) by dissolving Parliament and calling a snap-election. And he is almost certain to do the same again. There is an alternative government available, but it will not be given a chance to govern despite having the confidence of the House. The undemocratic royal prerogative still holds sway in the Cooks.