The Democratic Party has rejected claims by the Cook Islands Party that a broadcast made last Wednesday on Radio Cook Islands by Demo leader Tina Browne and the party’s RAPPA by-election candidate, Teina Rongo was in breach of the Electoral Act.
The claims were made yesterday in a statement issued by the CIP, saying the party was “extremely concerned” over what it considered to be an electoral offence by the Democratic Party.
However, Browne said yesterday she had checked with Electoral Officer Taggy Tangimetua and was confident the broadcast had not broken the law.
The CIP’s claims are based on the fact that Palmerston Island votes were being taken on May 10, the same day as the broadcast. However, Browne says the advertised date of the by-election was set at May 17, and there can be only one by-election, not two.
“I spoke to (Electoral Officer) Taggy Tangimetua and she confirmed that. We were very conscious of the need to get it right and there has been no breach of the Act. There is only one date for the by-election and we have not offended.”
The CIP statement said that on Wednesday May 10, between 11am and 12 noon, Browne, Rongo and Ake Utanga had taken part in their usual weekly hour-long radio broadcast on Radio Cook Islands.
“In the course of their broadcast, they made direct references to the by-election and urged Palmerston electors to vote for Dr Rongo and the Democratic Party.
“It is the CIP view that this action amounted to an electoral offence under section 84 of the Electoral Act.... ‘Interfering with or influencing electors’.
“In particular section 84(2)(c) of the Act provides that ‘Every person commits an offence and shall be liable on conviction to a fine not exceeding $5,000 who at any time on polling day before the close of the poll...broadcasts any statement advising or intended or likely to influence any elector as to the candidate or political party for whom he or she should vote....’
While the by-election was scheduled for tomorrow (Wednesday), special arrangements had been made for Palmerston Island residents to vote in advance of the poll because of their geographical isolation, the statement said.
“A public notice was issued to this effect by the Chief Electoral Officer on April 28, appointing Wednesday May 10 as the date for the taking of the Palmerston Island votes.
“That notice was also forwarded to the electoral official on Palmerston Island. A local vessel was chartered to carry their ballot papers and an electoral official from the Electoral Office in Rarotonga to take the votes of the voters on Palmerston Island.”
It followed that for Palmerston Island, the polling date was in fact May 10 and not Wednesday May 17 as it was for the rest of the RAPPA constituency, the statement said.
“The effect of this is that all relevant provisions of the Electoral Act so far as they relate to the administration of an election or by-election apply to Palmerston Island on the basis that their polling date is Wednesday May 10.”
It seemed clear that in making the Wednesday broadcast, the Democratic Party had committed an offence under the Electoral Act, regardless of whether it was intended or not, the statement added.
“The Cook Islands Party will be taking legal advice on this serious matter at an appropriate time to ensure the integrity of the electoral process.”