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The leaders of the Opposition in Cook Islands have slammed prime minister Henry Puna for calling an early election date last Wednesday, calling it “a disrespectful act” and “neglectful of duty and responsibility”.
Opposition leader William ‘Smiley’ Heather and Democratic Party leader Tina Browne are outraged with the government’s call for an early election, which is now set for June 14, calling it typical of the arrogance of the Puna-led government.
They say that from their point of view it is even more troubling that the election has been called off the back of the recent state visit to New Zealand and the flooding around Rarotonga.
“The calling of a snap election by the prime minister Henry Puna is a despicable act of disrespect for the interests of the Cook Islands people,” Browne said. “Amidst flooding on some parts of Rarotonga after heavy rain where a number of businesses and private homes have suffered huge losses and amidst huge public concerns about deteriorating roads, the prime minister calls a snap election?”
Heather said that the manner of announcing was “neglectful of duty and responsibility as the leader of the country”.
“This is an act of arrogance by Henry Puna, an act of failing to discharge his duty to advise Parliament and all other Members of Parliament of his government’s plans,” he said.
“He should be held accountable for the fallout of it in terms of how government functions from this point on.”
Browne said that the trip to New Zealand was particularly deceitful, as the PM seemed more interested in patching up relations over there while stabbing his own people in the back.
“This is typical of the style of Henry Puna and his government. They do not take heed of the feelings or concerns of the public but do things driven for self-preservation.
“The calling of this election shows his arrogance and the attitude of burying his head in the sand when there is a crisis.”
Finance minister Mark Brown, standing in for PM Puna at a government press conference, said that he could understand the opposition being upset, but it is something that they should have expected. “It wasn’t a matter of if an election would be called, it was when. It may have caught them off guard, but it shouldn’t, as they’ve been talking about elections now for months, speculating about when it will be called,” Brown said.
“I guess if they were smart enough they would have prepared for an election and prepared for a campaign period,” said Brown.
Meanwhile, Cook Islands Finance Minister defended Prime Minister Henry Puna for not attending a press conference in Rarotonga as finance minister Mark Brown fielded questions about the June 14 general election date announced last Wednesday.
Brown claimed that the Cook Islands Party leader was at an appointment, which explained his absence, but did not elaborate any further, although he did say that Puna was still in the country.
“I’m wearing two hats here,” Brown said when asked if Puna should be present.
“From the government side announcing that we’re in caretaker mode, but also from the party side, in terms of announcing the preparedness and readiness from a political party perspective that we are now looking forward to the campaign period.”
Although the PM was not present, it was he who had provided advice to Queen’s Representative Tom Marsters about when the election should be set, and when parliament should be dissolved.
With Marsters dissolving parliament and calling for the general election on June 14, complying with the constitution, the government is now in caretaker mode, which is essentially “business as usual”.
“The government will maintain the operations of government and the departments until the election day. And that means basically no new initiatives can be entered into during this caretaker period,” Brown explained.
The caretaker government is unable to announce the budget, which will be put on hold until after the election.
Election policies will be announced at a later date, as well as the confirmed candidates, which will not include one member of the current CIP government, as he or she will be retiring.
Ministers are still anticipated to travel overseas, as Brown said that they will still need to manage their responsibilities, but it will be up to them if they attend meetings or not.
The budget for the election is around $300,000 (US$220,000) which includes the printing of ballots, hiring of returning officers, and also the sending of ballot papers to the outer islands.
SOURCE: COOK ISLANDS NEWS/PACNEWS
Pacific Islands News Association
Who & What is PINA?
International News Safety Institute (INSI)
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