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“We are more than ready!”
Those were the words of Cook Islands opposition deputy leader and spokesperson James Beer following last week’s announcement of an early general election on June 14.
The Queen’s Representative Tom Marsters dissolved parliament last Wednesday and set out the election date on instruction from prime minister Henry Puna.
Beer said that, as predicted, the prime minister was using the last New Zealand trip to drum up support before advising the QR to dissolve parliament.
He said it was probably the worst-kept secret, adding that as far as the Democratic Party is concerned, the elections cannot come soon enough.
However, Beer said that having no pre-determined election date poses challenges to democracy.
In this case, he said the election being called means that many things remain unresolved and that this by extension allows the ruling party “off the hook”, allowing them to avoid scrutiny in parliament on many issues.
“One of the fundamental principles to an election is ensuring that voters are fully informed before they make a determination in the voting booth,” Beer said.
“This can be done through various methods and acts. The Ministry of Finance and Economic Management is required to provide a fiscal update before an election is called, which I understand is in the process of being completed and should be available soon.
“This might assist some people, but a lot will depend on how it is read and what issues can be taken from it.”
Beer also said that as parliament had now been dissolved, there was now a constitutional breach. That breach he said was the non-reporting to parliament of all “unauthorised expenditure”.
“There have been millions of dollars of this expenditure spent this way, which has not been provided to parliament as the Constitution requires it to be, and that in itself is a serious matter.
“Neither too has parliament received the crown accounts for the past four years, and that is also a breach of the Constitution,” he said.
“In both cases, oversight of ‘unauthorised expenditure’ and the crown accounts is fundamental to a properly functioning democracy, and the government has failed in this regard.”
Beer said the date set for the upcoming election was another matter.
He said it would be a matter of concern for the public service and the wheels of government if there was no parliament called within 90 days following the end of the financial year to approve new spending for the public service.
“The law provides for three months of the previous year’s Appropriation Act to be used – if no Appropriation Act has been passed by parliament, supply will then end and an intervention might be necessary but will depend as alluded above on whether petitions (and appeals if any) are filed and those hearings exceed September 30, 2018.
“The point is, that having a date arbitrarily set to a large extent by the prime minister leaves the potential for the elections to be corrupted and proper oversight of the country’s finances undetermined.
“The potential to set up certain constituencies with ‘shipped in’ voters are also relevant, particularly when we have some very small constituencies where three or four people ‘shipped in’ can change the outcome.
“In other words, this election will take place 63 days from its announcement, and the Constitution and the Electoral Act require amongst other things that an elector becomes qualified when they have resided in an electorate for three months or more.
“But only a very few key people generally know when that election date is to occur – the prime minister and cabinet perhaps.
“It is something that needs fixing, and as much as we want political reform that deals specifically with equity amongst constituencies, we also need parliamentary and electoral reform to ensure that elections pass the moral and responsible test, even if it passes the legal test,” he said.
SOURCE: COOK ISLANDS NEWS/PACNEWS
Pacific Islands News Association
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International News Safety Institute (INSI)
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