JUST three days before the start of Parliament, the Democratic Party has dropped a bombshell that could make the distribution of seats in the Government and the Opposition coalition more interesting.
In a statement, Democratic Party leader William “Smiley’’ Heather and One Cook Islands Movement president George Turia declared the Ruatonga, Avatiu, Palmerston, Panama and Atupa (RAPPA) constituency seat vacant.
Internal Affairs minister Albert Nicholas won the RAPPA seat under the Democratic Party banner before crossing the floor last year to take up a ministerial post with the Cook Islands Party (CIP) government.
The statement said that with the unanimous support of the Democratic Party caucus and the support of coalition partners the One Cook Islands Movement, he had delivered a letter to the Speaker of Parliament, Nikki Rattle notifying her that a vote on the issue of the party’s confidence in Nicholas had found he had failed to support the majority of members of the political party he had belonged to when he was elected to parliament.
“The law is clear that the seat of the Avatiu-Ruatonga constituency is now vacant,” the statement said.
The letter had been acknowledged by the Speaker in the presence of Clerk of Parliament John Tangi on Wednesday.
Nicholas had failed to support the majority of members of the political party he was elected for, the statement added.
Tangi yesterday confirmed receiving the letter and said he had sought legal advice on the Democratic Party’s decision.
“We are awaiting legal advice and I’m not sure when we will get that. We will be able to comment once we have received the legal advice.” The statment claimed extensive consultations had been undertaken with Nicholas to return and act with the Demo Party, adding he “has steadfastly refused to do so”. “It is regrettable that this step had to be taken. We were left with no option but to take this step, which is done under the party integrity provisions of the Electoral Act. “These provisions protect voters from having their wishes undermined by MPs on issues of confidence.”
The statement said with the seat now being vacant, a notice must be published in the Gazette and a by-election held.
“The Democratic Party has thus returned to the people of RAPPA their seat to decide on new representation that will have the integrity and a clear understanding of the responsibilities that come with the high standards expected of being called an Honourable MP.
“Until that by-election, we will take steps to try and ensure that the people of RAPPA do not have decisions made without their elected representative being in Parliament.”
Nicholas, who is expected to make a statement after a decision from Crown Law and the Speaker on whether the seat is in fact vacant, had earlier clarified his decision to cross to the CIP to take a ministership in government. “It was a decision based on history. The last time RAPPA was ever taken notice of was when Papa Tom (Davis) was prime minister and that was a very long time ago,” he told CI News
“Since that time our Members of Parliament have come and gone, tried to do things for us, but because they were just ordinary MPs, certain things were hard to make happen.
“My executive is comprised of former members of the Demo party, former executives and a former president and also members of the CIP. Having a coalition executive is what it’s about.
“When we came together, we decided to do this for the sole purpose of RAPPA.”
After recent developments, which include the Arutanga/Reureu Nikaupara seat formerly held by Teina Bishop declared vacant and Rose Brown’s decision to join the opposition coalition as their parliamentary leader, the government, including Nicholas, has 12 seats.
The opposition coalition, including Brown and minus Bishop, now has 11 seats.