IF THE opposition coalition actions in parliament yesterday are determined to be within the law, the country’s first woman prime minister will be sworn in.
Cook Islands Party MP Rose Brown, who is also deputy speaker of parliament, could take the helm of the country with Democratic Party leader MP William Heather her deputy.
The Opposition coalition resumed Parliament yesterday in the belief that the current session was never adjourned on Friday as required by Parliamentary rules. CI News understands on the instruction of Clerk of Parliament, yesterday’s afternoon session was not recorded or broadcast. Nor was the opposition coalition permitted any contact with Speaker Niki Rattle.
The clerk’s actions have been described as “unexpected” by the opposition coalition, who say the clerk is expected to be impartial at all times.
As MP Brown was present, she took the Speaker’s chair and the business of the House included a motion of no confidence in Prime Minister Henry Puna and his cabinet.
Internal Affairs minister Albert Nicholas was also present in parliament, giving the opposition the necessary quorum of 12 MPs.
All voted in support of the motion of no confidence. It appears Brown and Albert Nicholas have defected to the opposition. Nicholas’ presence in parliament and supporting votes indicate he has returned to the Democratic Party for whom he successfully stood for in the last general elections. Nicholas left the Democrats to take up a ministership under the Cook Islands Party government.
Brown was given majority support to be sworn as prime minister. As Brown commanded the votes, the next step was to advise the Queen’s Representative of this development and to request that she be sworn in as prime minister. According to the opposition coalition, QR Tom Marsters was given formal notification that they would be calling on him at Government House in Titikaveka.
However, when the opposition coalition group arrived at Government house, the QR was not in residence. The group, including prime minister hopeful Rose Brown, parked their cars on the roadside frontage of the official residence and waited. Asked to comment, Brown refrained, saying she would prefer to wait until “it’s all over.”
When that will be is anyone’s guess as it’s highly likely the QR is now seeking legal advice on the country’s parliamentary rules and Constitution. He will want reassurance whether the events in parliament yesterday were legal before proceeding with swearing in any MP favoured to be prime minister. It is likely Crown Law will seek a legal opinion from authority on the Cook Islands constitution, Dr Alex Frame.
As expected, opposition coalition members are convinced that what they’ve done is well within the law, MP James Beer saying, “we’ve checked, rechecked and double-checked during a multitude of meetings to ensure what we were doing was within the ambit of the law, of the standing orders and the constitution of the Cook Islands.”
GIVEN the absence of the QR when the Opposition coalition clearly expected him to be in residence to receive them and government claiming to have a Crown Law opinion that yesterday’s Parliamentary events were illegal, Beer reasons that “…in all these kinds of events, you can’t expect them to go as smoothly as you’d like them to.”
Beer questions whether the Crown Law advice actually exists, as nothing had been provided to parliament members at the time of going to print. He says the advice was requested in parliament, “because the clerk raised that.”
“But in the absence of that advice or any written advice from the solicitor general we cannot accept that what has been given is actually correct without any evidence or having seen it.”
Prime Minister Henry Puna is currently overseas heading for Palau. Finance minister Mark Brown was scheduled to leave the country last night and Health minister Nandi Glassie is in Tonga. Two local authorities on parliamentary law, former Speaker and MP Norman George and former Clerk of the House John Scott have both expressed opinions in support of the actions taken by the Opposition coalition.