- Polynesia in Review:Issues and Events, 1 July 2006 to 30 June 2007
The period under review was dominated by an unprecedented call for general elections, parliamentary conflicts, and budget approval constraints that at times tested the interpretation of the powers of the head of state. Ongoing out-migration of Cook Islanders, environmental problems, and continuing inflation slipped under the radar as politicians pushed for major salary increases and most Cook Islanders struggled from paycheck to paycheck. The popular American television series Survivor, and some sporting successes, provided some respite, but an unpredictable tourist industry, technical personnel limitations, and occasional invasive diseases and insects reminded Cook Islanders to be constantly vigilant.
July 2006 began with continuing concern by many observers about the leak of the Queen's Honours list from the office of Prime Minister Jim Marurai, which he dismissed as "unimportant" (CIN, 5 July, 4). Perhaps of more concern to Marurai were political undercurrents aimed toward replacing him and the Speaker of the House (CIN, 6 July 2006, 1). Meanwhile, one of the laws finalized by the Cook Islands Parliament was a Marriage Amendment Bill outlawing marriages between homosexuals. The law was clearly designed to counter the provisions of New Zealand's civil union legislation (CIN, 19 July 2006, 1).
Government also committed itself to a variety of programs including the development of geotourism through an agreement signed by Tourism Minister Wilkie Rasmussen and Sarah Laskin, vice president of public and business development for National Geographic. The agreement obligated the island country to adhere to fourteen geotourism principles designed to sustain and enhance the geographic character of a given place, including the environment, culture, aesthetics, and the well-being of its people. In return, National Geographic promised to produce maps and brochures "which identify the unique features of the Cook Islands" (CIN, 2 Aug, 2006, 1). The Cook Islands becomes only the fourth country to accede to the charter.
In July Teina Bishop, member for Arutanga (Aitutaki), resigned from his cabinet post realigning himself with the opposition Cook Islands Party (CIP). Not long after, Kiriau Turepu (CIP) won the snap election for the Matavera (Rarotonga) constituency, potentially changing the balance of power in Parliament and creating a footing for a change of government (CIN, 20 July 2006, 1). The political battle intensified when opposition CIP members met in Parliament without Democratic Party (Demo) government members. After swearing in the [End Page 216] newly elected Kiriau Turepu, they voted the Demo government out. The event was broadcast live on national radio, attracting accusations of a coup attempt bordering on sedition and treason. The extraordinary chain of events became even more confusing when Queen's Representative Sir Frederick Goodwin called for a general election. This essentially negated the by-election just won by Turepu and preempted the later attempt by CIP parliamentarians to use a vote of no confidence to force a change of government (CIN, 25 July 2006). The high court was drawn into the drama amid accusations of political maneuvering on both sides of the aisle. Meanwhile, caretaker Prime Minister Jim Marurai tried to reassure the general population that there was no cause for alarm (CIN, 25 July 2006, 1). The election was set for 26 September 2006.
Sir Geoffrey Arama Henry announced his retirement from the Cook Islands Party leadership effective 31 August 2006, and as member of Parliament representing the Takuvaine (Rarotonga) constituency. Mark Brown replaced Henry as CIP candidate for Takuvaine, and Tom Marsters, the member of Parliament for Murienua (Rarotonga), was eventually elected to lead the Cook Islands Party in Parliament (CIN, 13 Dec 2006, 1). The party now faces multiple challenges: new leadership, a seemingly overzealous head of state, possible court challenges, and a pending general election.
As candidates filed their nominations for the elections, Wilkie Rasmussen switched his allegiance to the Democratic Party. He had originally won his seat by nine votes over Demo candidate Tepure Tapaitau CIN, 10 Aug 2006, 1). Apparently catching the campaign committee off guard, the Cook Islands Party failed to nominate a substitute candidate, so Rasmussen entered the election unopposed. The election was hotly contested for 23 of the 24 seats. After some...