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Politicians are out of touch, say young voters

Saturday 23 July 2022 | Written by Sian Solomon | Published in Features, Weekend


Politicians are out of touch, say young voters
Jana Robertson says she hopes the current government will make good on its promise to decriminalise homosexuality. Photo: SIAN SOLOMON/22072241

With the General Election just around the corner, young voters say they are ready for some younger blood and new ideas.

Cook Islander Jana Robertson went to the polls in 2018 with one goal in mind, which was to create change in a positive way.

At 27 years old, she saw voting for her preferred electoral candidate as a way to tackle big issues within the country, like raising the minimum wage.

Four years later, Robertson now sees her choice of political party and leaders in the country as both lacking in charisma and imagination.

She mentions a generational gap – one she once overlooked but now seems massive in comparison.

“I think Mark Brown will get back in as Prime Minister because of his promise to draft a bill to decriminalise homosexuality,” says Robertson about the Cook Islands Party leader’s recent promise to protect the rights of the LGBTQI community in the new Crimes Act.

“I think that’s a really big thing, and a really big step forward for the country, as we have been so behind in that area. 

“We’ve been so hard in accepting them (the LGBTQI) even in schools, and I know that it’s a cultural and potentially religious issue but something definitely needs to change,” she adds. 

“I mean its 2022 and they are there – we need to be more inclusive. We should be leading the way in something like that.”

While voters across the country have expressed doubts about some of the country’s political leadership and policies, few groups are as united in their desire for issues like homosexuality to be decriminalised.

A short survey held by Cook Islands News discovered that a large percentage of young people between 18-to-40-year-olds would side with the Democratic Party or the Cook Islands Party on issues that are only rising in prominence, like decriminalising homosexuality, increasing the minimum wage, and holding a cannabis referendum.

But with this year’s general election so close by, many young voters say they feel disengaged and deflated with only a small percentage saying they would actually vote in this year’s general election, according to the poll.

Those voters include 18-year-old Trina Ahau, who is straight out of high school and eligible to vote for the first time, but said she doesn’t think her vote will make much of a difference.

2021 senior girls dance champion Ambushia Mateariki danced for the ‘Pride’ public campaign supporting Te Tiare Association and Pride Cook Islands Inc LGBTQI+ communities of the Cook Islands. Photo: SUPPLIED/21051447

“I would like to see the minimum wage change along with decriminalising homosexuality and let that be allowed, as I think (currently) it’s unfair,” shares Ahau.

“But I’m not interested in the election, because I don’t think anything is going to change. I mean I’m convinced to vote already but only because I like one of the candidates. 

“I think they (our politicians) are out of touch because you don’t really see them interacting with younger people … and doing stuff for the younger ones, like me," she adds.

“I think some of the young people are fed up with politics here, or at least I know most of my friends are. They are not interested in politics or even to vote. Some of them won’t vote, because they are not interested.”  

Interviews with these young voters have revealed generational tensions that have fuelled frustrations.

For many who have come of age, facing discrimination, high inflation, low wages, and a pandemic, have meant many have looked for help from the country’s politicians.

These leaders, a majority who are in their 60s, have continued to talk about upholding and restoring norms, while young voters say they are more interested in results and seeing sweeping changes like having younger leaders.

A number also expressed a desire for action on the problems they stand to inherit like climate change, rather than focusing on what solutions and ideas worked in the past.

“We need some younger people who are in tune with what younger people want, as our current Government is on the older side,” says David Macfarlane, 23, who is from the Karika family in Rarotonga and has recently returned for a holiday. 

“This is not bad, as I’m sure each one of them has lived through their fair share of problems and understands the traditional ways, but you know it would be nice to have a Government that is in tune with everything else, because in our generation we want to see results and action, instead of words and just promises. 

“(For me) I think as far as the policies and promises go, decreasing the MPs salaries by 45 per cent would benefit the island in a major way, and also increasing the minimum wage would really help," he adds.

"The minimum wage is pretty low compared to places like New Zealand and Australia. I kind of understand why, but I think increasing it will give people more incentive to live here, and maybe come back. I mean, as a Cook Islander who used to live here, it was quite difficult and still is compared to overseas. I left because the minimum wage was so low it wasn’t really feasible for me to live here anymore.” 

Cook Islander David Macfarlane says he would like to see the minimum wage increased and MP’s salaries cut by 45 per cent. Photo: SIAN SOLOMON/22072240

While middle-aged voters tend to identify with the economy and taking care of their families as top priorities during the election, it is just one of many issues for younger voters.

A number of younger voters who were surveyed also shared that they felt some disconnect with the messages from candidates in their village, while others shared a slightly different perspective on what they would like to see from (future) leaders.

For those young people, it was more about politicians playing a supportive role rather than making promises which might not happen.

“Staying out of operations and supporting public servants’ work, (and) taking the advice of public servants (because) that’s what they’re there for, is what I would like to see,” says Cook Islander Jaime Short.    

“I haven’t seen any promises and policies by the Government, only Demo and the United Party ones via Facebook… (But) I think (politicians) they’re out of touch with how their role is supposed to work. Governance not operations, and certainly not special favours.  

“I don’t think young voters (under 30) are very interested (in results). But this is based on my own interest around that age," she adds.

“I do think (young people) they’d like to see sweeping changes, especially to wages. I don’t think wages reflect the effort of the roles, and certainly not the cost of living, but there are a whole lot of things that go into that.” 

With that in mind, many young voters between 18-to-40-year-olds say they want to see a leader run the country that is “relatable”, while others say they just want to see more changes.

Although this year's candidate have made promises on what they are going to do, most young voters agree that there is a need for more than one change.

For many, they say they want to see action from the Government and their policies, with a lot of young people holding hope that some of these changes will happen.

“A lot of Cook Islanders have gone away (overseas), so how do you ask what they want, when everyone is leaving?" says Robertson.

“I also think the pension definitely needs to be changed and the minimum wage. I mean, some people started on the bottom of the scale, and they haven’t had a pay increase for years.

“(Also) I also think our politicians are definitely a lot older, and it would be nice to see some youth in politics that we can relate to," she adds.

"But I think the current government has done well considering it has been a hard couple of years with Covid-19.”