Bishop commanded the majority of opposition numbers to take over leadership from William “Smiley” Heather with eight supporting signatures: six Demo and two One Cook Islands.
Three Democrats chose not to add their signatures, Clerk of Parliament John Tangi saying this indicated they were against the leadership change.
Cook Islands News understands the position of deputy Parliamentary opposition leader is also being contended with Tamaiva Tuavera and James Beer the front runners. Tangi says the question of who will deputise Teina Bishop is entirely up to the opposition to decide and again, will be up to a majority of signatures in support.
Earlier this month CI News reported Bishop had been offered the deputy leadership and was seriously considering the job. However, later developments saw Bishop gain more signatures than Heather to take the opposition helm in parliament.
Tangi disclosed that the first signature in support of Bishop being leader was made on February 22, the last on March 19.
Despite Bishop having a clear majority, Tangi says he and Speaker Niki Rattle opted to move cautiously on the leadership declaration, seeking advice from Solicitor General David James and the New Zealand Clerk of Parliament, David Wilson.
Tangi says Rattle was reluctant to make a hasty decision to accept the declaration and formalise it and other professional advice was sought as a precautionary measure.
Tangi says Rattle also met with each of three MPs who refrained from adding their signatures in support of Bishop.
Following these meetings, Tangi says the Speaker was satisfied that formalisation of the opposition leadership could proceed as provided for under the law.
Heather, who remains head of the Democratic Party, says the leadership change is supported by caucus members. He says it’s seen as a strategic move to strengthen the coalition partnership in and out of Parliament.
“There are still a few more issues to be ironed out. These will be presented to the Democratic executives and constituency supporters at a later date.”
Bishop, one of the most seasoned parliamentarians in the country says his first job when parliament resumes will be to move a motion to reject the European Union purse seining agreement he says PM Henry Puna will be signing on behalf of the country. Signing of the agreement has been endorsed by cabinet.
“The law is quite clear, cabinet is answerable to parliament.”
Bishop has previously said the correct process is for a select committee to be appointed to look into the anti-purse seining petition and the EU- Cook Islands agreement before anything is signed.
“We are going to join forces and fight this issue on behalf of our people, starting with purse seining.”
Bishop says while they urge the PM to call parliament to resume quickly, the opposition in the meantime will be preparing anti-purse seining/EU agreement arguments that will be based on sound scientific and economic data.
“As a former minister of Marine Resources I am fully prepared to deal with this.”
Next on the opposition agenda will be the Mato Vai water project, says Bishop.
He says he plans to deal with each of the major controversial issues facing the country, one at a time. According to Bishop First Cook Islands has drafted the priority coalition policies ‘which will form the basis of the partnership which will be based on policies and not on politics’. The coalition now hold 11 of the 24 seats in parliament.
Three government MPs are said to be unhappy with the leadership of PM Henry Puna and willing to cross the floor – no doubt in exchange for ministerial postings as has been the case in the past.
According to a source, the Cook Islands Party executive met on Monday evening and a decision was made that PM Henry Puna ‘has to go’. The job of telling Puna about the executive decision was apparently left with Finance Minister Mark Brown, who is said to have met with the PM yesterday morning.
Cook Islands News has been told several closed door conversations have been happening between high ranking officials in government and the opposition for several weeks, indicating major changes could well be just ahead of the country.