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OPINION: The political scorecard

Saturday 11 June 2022 | Written by Supplied | Published in Opinion

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OPINION: The political scorecard
Column writer Petero Okotai. Photo: SUPPLIED

With billboards being erected in preparation for the 2022 General Election, Cook Islands News columnist Petero Okotai, the country’s foremost policy expert, discusses what might transpire on the polling day.

A few notes before we get started:

  • A seat may be designated to a candidate or party, or could be considered a question mark, or what could be considered a (potential) swing seat, i.e. up for grabs.
  • It is early days and I’m working with limited information, and these projections are subject to change.
  • I cannot be held liable for any losses made on bets on the election made on the basis of the content in this article
  • I’m going island by island rather than in alphabetical order.

So, without further delay:

Rarotonga

Takuvaine/Tutakimoa – The Democratic Party have not mounted a serious challenge in this seat for a while, and whilst it is good to see new blood running this time (in the form of Davina Hosking), unless there is a dramatic shift in community dynamics nothing is likely to change and the PM should retain his seat with relative ease. (CIP)

Tupapa/Maraerenga – The largest seat in the country and seat of Minister Maggie. Despite previous strong showings in this seat, with this being his third run, Maggie is perhaps facing his most formidable challenger from the United Party. It should be noted almost any candidate running for a third time in their constituency will likely struggle a little, as after a time there is always a natural movement towards change in the end (nothing lasts forever). Whilst Maggie would seem to have the upper hand, this race will be close – so much so that it could be a potential swing seat. (Swinging).

Matavera – An interesting seat, as this seat has been closely contested over the last two decades with one of the largest electorates being decided by only a handful of votes. To that end, this is likely to be another close call. It remains a potential swing seat. (Swinging)

Ngatangiia - A Democratic Party stronghold, since the days of the late Dr Terepai Maoate. The incumbent (Tama Tuavera) is vulnerable with credible campaigns from the Cook Islands Party (CIP) candidate (a returning Tukaka Ama) and the United Party. This will be a very interesting and close race. (Swinging)

Titikaveka – In the last election incumbent Selina Napa of the Democratic Party failed to win a third of the total vote, however, the CIP vote was basically split three ways, and with another independent, there was a total of five candidates contesting the seat. There is every chance of a similar outcome, but the incumbent will be hard pressed to retain her seat for the third consecutive election. This is another potential swing seat. (Swinging)

Murienua – Another Minister and another seat up for grabs. Incumbent Patrick Arioka faces stiff opposition with the former deputy prime minister, and now leader of the United Party (Teariki Heather) having been campaigning for a number of years already. With the resources deployed and community activity, I have to give the edge to Heather at this point. (United Party)

Akaoa – Currently held by the Democratic Party, this seat is under threat by the new United Party – this seems to be a trend ... something we’ll discuss later. (Swinging)

Ruaau – William (Smiley) Heather has been a fixture now for a number of terms, and with time comes the appetite for change … but not yet. His standing in the community will see him retaining again. (Demo)

Nikao – It is encouraging to see another new candidate in politics with Macan Munokoa announcing her candidacy. However, if you were to bet the house on any seat in Rarotonga, this would be it. Incumbent “Mac” (Mokoroa) is also in an interesting position where he has strong relationships with all parties, perhaps something to watch if (more likely “when”) a coalition government needs to be formed. (CIP)

Avatiu/Ruatonga/Palmerston – If you asked me a couple of years ago, I would have said that the incumbent here is done for, however, over the last couple of years Albert Nicholas has worked hard to repair his image and, moreover, has been active in the community. With that said, Teina Rongo (Dem) made significant in-roads in the previous elections compared to his first outing. Further progress could see him taking the seat outright this time. It’s going to be close… again too close for me to call. (Swinging)

Aitutaki

Amuri-Uriea – I have heard varying reports, with the latest trending towards the incumbent (Junior Maoate). It will be close, but at this point I have the incumbent retaining. (Demo)

Arutanga–Reureu–Nikauparau – It seems from all reports that the incumbent (Apii Maki-Kavana) is quite strong and likely to retain. (CIP)

Vaipae–Tautu – An interesting seat with a strong independent standing (an inadvertent creation of the CIP, though this is not my story to tell) – potentially taking a seat away from the CIP and Demo. Too close to call. (Swinging)

Mangaia – At this point I am getting lazy, as I am lumping the seats of Ivirua, Tamarua and Oneroa together. Despite significant efforts of the CIP, my sense (assuming I have any) is that the incumbents will hold their seats, though there is undoubtedly some frustration that Mangaia has not had a seat at the table as part of a presiding government since (late) Jim Marurai was PM. (Demo x3)

Atiu – An island seemingly dominated by a single family politically (and economically), it will be interesting to see if this hegemony continues. This will be the third election in a row they hope to continue their stranglehold over the island and as discussed, as time goes by it is harder and harder to hold on. At this point (and playing the odds) I think they’ll retain one and a half seats: Teenui–Mapumai – Rose Brown (IND)

Tengatangi–Areora–Ngatiarua – Potential swing seat. (Swinging)

Mauke – New blood in the form of Eileen Story seems a best bet of the rookie candidates to win their respective seat. Interestingly, she announced her candidacy before receiving the official endorsement of the CIP, perhaps suggesting they needed her more than she needed them. However, last time this seat came down to one vote and it looks like there will be at least three candidates running again this time. (CIP)

Mitiaro – I have to admit a large degree of ignorance in terms of this seat, but there hasn’t been a huge amount of talk about it, which leads me to go chalk and back the incumbent. (CIP)

The North

Again, I may claim a degree of laziness here but the prediction here is the same for all four northern islands, i.e. CIP.

Manihiki – In the last election I think I picked at least 85 per cent of the results correctly, however the biggest surprise to me was not the result but the margin of victory in Manihiki. Having relatively small populations (excepting Pukapuka Nassau) the margin of victory in these seats was generally five or less. I had often said that if you broke wind in the wrong direction the day before the election you could lose the race. However, (Henry) Puna won with the largest margin in over two decades, it was both shocking and to be frank, a little disconcerting. It was clear that any other candidate would not stand a chance in that seat for some time. (CIP)

Rakahanga – My sense is that Rakahanga would have gone to the CIP if not for some ill-advised campaign proclamations by the former PM, and I expect (hope) the lesson has been learned. (CIP swing).

Penrhyn (Tongareva) – As discussed last week, with the amount of (government) investment into the island the last few years, the incumbent (Robert Tapaitau) seems to be assured of the seat. (CIP)

Pukapuka/Nassau – Again I’m working from a degree of ignorance here but the word is that the CIP now own the North and Elikana will retain his seat. (CIP)

FINAL TALLY

CIP Demo United Ind Swinging
9 5 1 1 8

Final Analysis (for now): What this seems to indicate is the election is still up for grabs. It is however worrying that the Democratic Party are at risk of ceding ground. By rights it is their turn, and in reality, they won more seats than the CIP in the last election, and equaled them the election before but somehow, both times, they failed to negotiate a coalition and thus found themselves on the Opposition benches again. At a time when there should be a natural push for change after over a decade of CIP rule, it doesn’t seem that the Democratic Party have positioned themselves as a viable alternative (yet – early days). A weak Opposition makes for a poor democracy and there has been minimal meaningful resistance shown in the last four years.

This weakness perhaps is the fertile ground where Teariki Heather has launched the United Party which has candidates in over 50 per cent of constituencies, positioning himself and the party as at least a viable coalition partner.

But the other problem when looking at these parties is that it is not really clear what any of these parties stand for, or what separates them… but that’s a discussion for another time.

It seems the most likely result will be some sort of coalition government especially if the United Party can secure a couple of seats and the Brown hegemony of Atiu continues.

Coalitions have proven to be deleterious to our (current) democratic system, with the compromises (both political and ethical) that occur in negotiating these deals and the inherent insecurity of the government’s positions resulting in a limiting of parliamentary sittings in fear of votes of no confidence. A minority benefits, but the majority lose.