First and foremost, if the result in Manihiki holds, the Cook Islands will have a new Prime Minister after Democratic candidate Apii Piho came out on top by a mere two votes over Cook Islands Party (CIP) leader Henry Puna.
According to preliminary results released by the Chief Electoral Office, the Demos are ahead with 11 seats, followed by the CIP with 10 seats, and One Cook Islands with two. A tie has been recorded in Tamarua.
The result puts One Cook Islands in the tentative position of kingmaker – something that officials in the camp of George Maggie, the victorious candidate in Tupapa-Maraerenga, would later become well aware of.
Shortly after results were announced yesterday evening, a Maggie supporter broke out a rendition of Bob Marley’s “One Love”, paying homage to the movement’s spirit of “one love; one heart” - as previously identified by leader Teina Bishop, who also came out on top in Aitutaki over the Demo’s Teuira Ka.
Leaving behind Puna, the former Cabinet members of the previous government – Akaoa’s Teariki Heather, Mark Brown in Takuvaine, Kiriau Turepu in Matavera, Mona Iona in Vaipae-Tautu, and Nandi Glassie in Atiu – all pulled through.
All aside, the story of the election appears to be the interim success of Bishop’s One Cook Islands movement.
Bishop and Maggie took two seats previously held by the CIP, tilting the scales in their favour.
“It's early days,” admitted OCI President George Turia. “This was a test to the commitment of our people.”
Turia said he found the early results intriguing as there is no clear winner, putting OCI in a position it has sought since its inception shortly after the snap election call by Puna in April.
“It will be interesting to see if the parties want to come to talk to us,” he said. “Our door is always open.”
In Atiu, upstart CIP candidate Rose Toki Brown pulled off a tremendous upset, unseating the Demo’s Norman George – a political titan and fixture of Cook Islands politics for over 20 years.
Other notable preliminary winners include the Demo’s Albert Nicholas, who knocked off incumbent CIP candidate John Henry, and Tamaiva ‘Captain Tama’ Tuavera – who pulled away handsomely from Atatoa Herman, also a CIP incumbent, and independent Teina Mackenzie.
Geographically, the Demos dominated in Rarotonga, winning seven seats to the CIP’s three, while the CIP managed to take seven seats in the outer islands compared to the Demos' four.
Speaking on Cook Islands Radio, Chief Electoral Officer Taggy Tangimetua said a final count of the votes was expected to begin on Monday, with official results scheduled for release on Friday.
She said the final count will include roughly 400 advanced votes, at least 100 postal votes and another 100 votes by declaration – all having the potential to fundamentally shift the final result in a number of directions.