Nicholas jumps to the other side

Monday March 16, 2015 Written by Published in Politics
Prime Minister Henry Puna welcomes Democratic Party Member of Parliament for Avatiu, Albert Nicholas, to the Cook Islands Government in a special swearing-in ceremony at Government House yesterday afternoon. Prime Minister Henry Puna welcomes Democratic Party Member of Parliament for Avatiu, Albert Nicholas, to the Cook Islands Government in a special swearing-in ceremony at Government House yesterday afternoon.

Democratic Party Member of Parliament for Avatiu Albert Nicholas has changed sides to join the Cook Islands Party.

The government says this will provide political certainty for the country but the Democratic and One Cook Islands parties say the CIP is not out of the woods yet. 

Nicholas was sworn in as a Minister of the Crown yesterday afternoon at Government House in Titikaveka, taking the Cook Islands Party seats in Parliament to 12 and giving them the numbers to continue governing the country.  

Nicholas said he did not feel like he had betrayed the Democratic Party. Instead he saw his move as benefiting the people in his constituency, Avatiu-Ruatonga-Palmerston. 

“This coalition is with the Democratic Party of my constituency and the government of the day,” he said. 

“I am doing this in the hope that it gives political certainty to our country.”

Nicholas said plans to change sides had been in the pipeline for more than two months.

The 42-year-old father of six is now the youngest member of Cabinet. 

Prime Minister Henry Puna said he was relieved to finally be able to provide stability to the country.

Speaking in Maori to Queen’s Representative Tom Marsters, Puna described the appointment of Nicholas as a move to ‘calm’ the current political situation. 

He acknowledged that the nation’s political state had been unstable since the elections and added that Nicholas’s appointment was one of great importance, especially as the nation this year commemorates 50 years of self-governance.

“We have kept the people waiting long enough for 50th plans,” said Puna. 

Puna acknowledged Nicholas’s late father Peto Nicholas who was also a former Member of Parliament for the same constituency. 

But he said a comment by Nicholas that this was a coalition with the Democratic Party would be viewed differently by the Opposition.

“I see it as more of a coming together of people,” said Puna.

The allocation of Nicholas’s ministerial portfolios would be discussed next week. 

But Puna said the government would not become complacent and still planned to work hard to win the Vaipae-Tautu by-election on March 31 to get a comfortable majority. 

But Democratic Party leader Wilkie Rasmussen said in consultations with the wider party, members had condemned Nicholas’s actions. 

“He tried to do this before but his committee wouldn’t allow it, but now he has just decided to go,” he said.

Rasmussen said the decision also put Nicholas in a vulnerable position as an MP.

Under anti-party hopping provision in the Electoral Act 2004, Nicholas cannot vote on matters of appropriation or confidence in the Prime Minister.

“He cannot vote on the budget and depending how the legislation is interpreted, he cannot vote on matters that involve confidence in the Prime Minister or government,” Rasmussen said.

The provision also means that if Nicholas votes to support the government on such matters, the Democratic Party can declare his seat vacant, which would spark the need for a by-election in the Avatiu-Ruatonga-Palmerston constituency.

Rasmussen said the party was now focused on the Vaipae-Tautu by-election, and strengthening their coalition with the One Cook Islands Party.

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