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  • Cook Islands
  • Jon Tikivanotau M Jonassen (bio)

The period under review began with the fortieth anniversary of the achieve­ment of self-government in free association with New Zealand. Scott Rob­ert of New Zealand won the popular Round Rarotonga Road Race for 2005, and a 197-kilogram northern bluefin tuna caught by Willie Farani of the Gypsy Trade was sold to Japan for a record US$62,000 (CIN, 2 July 2005, 1).

But soon the rejoicing turned into a year of political sackings: Sir Geoffrey Henry as deputy prime minister in August 2005, then Tupou Faireka and Tom Marsters as cabinet ministers in September 2005, in what Prime Minister Jim Marurai called "clearing dirt from my government" (CIN, 10 Sept 2005, 1). The outgoing ministers were replaced by Dr Terepai Maoate (as deputy prime minister), Mr Tangata Vavia, and Mrs Ngamau Munokoa. Further possible changes in cabinet and rumors of new coalitions continued to emerge from time to time throughout this period. Local media magnate George Pitt was also sacked in October 2005 from his position as chairman of the board for Rarotonga Island's electricity pro­vider, Te Aponga Uira O Tumutevaro­varo. Several heads of department positions were re-advertised. The Cook Islands' most senior diplomat, the high commissioner to New Zea­land and Australia, former Cook Islands Prime Minister Dr Robert Woonton, was fired for allegedly interfering with local politics in the Northern group, an accusation Dr Woonton denied. Prime Minister Marurai asked Minister Peri Vaevae Pare to resign after he was accused of misusing public funds. Vaevae was later found guilty, subsequently losing his seat in Matavera.

The by-election that emerged between three contestants—Vaine Teokotai for the Democratic Party, Kiriau Turepu for the Cook Islands Party, and Mereana Taikoko as an independent—should be decided by July 2006. However, it is doubtful that ­theresult of the Matavera by-election will stabilize a coalition-based gov­ernment that has seen many shifts in allegiance by several of the twenty-four member parliamentarians insensitive to the party supporters who voted them in. An earlier vacated ­parliamentary seat in Atiu Island ­initiated three hopeful candidates, including former MP Norman George. Standing this time as an independent, George won the by-election, potentially shifting the power base his way—a situation he is familiar with, having been a key player in many previous coalition governmental changes. The possibility of a hung parliament also hangs over the small nation.

Initial efforts by Jim Marurai at creating a government of national unity were viewed as unrealistic by most local longtime political leaders (CIN, 13 August 2005, 1). But the [End Page 207] prime minister later "walked the talk," as he and members of his department trekked into the Takuvaine valley as part of a team-spiritbuilding exercise. Local media described the activity as an effort to overcome the negative impact of personnel changes in the department resulting from several past leadership adjustments. Sadly, Prime Minister Marurai's wife Tuaine passed away after a long illness and was laid to rest in her home island of Mangaia inSeptember 2005.

The first newspaper of the Cook Islands, published 26 January 1895 under the label Te Torea, was remembered (CIN, 17 Aug 2005, 7). Sir Geoffrey Henry, the leader of the oldest political party in the nation, the Cook Islands Party, confirmed that he would step down from national and party politics in 2006 (CIN, 28 Sept 2005, 1), although most observers remained skeptical at the announcement. Meanwhile there is increasing pressure from women leaders for more access to positions of political power. A regional conference was held in Rarotonga, aimed at advancing women's representation in Parliament. One suggestion was the enactment of legal quotas for special measures for women as parliamentary members. Women leaders and the general public have long perceived that existing parliamentarians did very little legislative work for their salaries and special benefits. Some noted that by January 2006 Parliament had only sat for thirty days since the general election in 2004 (CIN, 31 Jan 2006, 1).

During the year, the so-called "Sheraton debacle" continued to reemerge in a variety of forms...


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