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What it takes to become an MP in the Cook Islands

Friday 22 October 2021 | Written by Te Tuhi Kelly | Published in Opinion

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What it takes to become an MP in the Cook Islands
Te Tuhi Kelly. PHOTO: COOK ISLANDS NEWS/191011111

Anyone can become an MP in the Cook Islands, or can they? What does it take to become a politician at the highest level in the Cook Islands?

To answer these two questions, I submit that the answer lies in what I have coined is the current model of a Cook Islands MP. At the apex is the motivation to become an MP, joined by two subsets that represent the Rarotongan MP and those who represent the Pa Enua MP.

I submit that the motivation to become an MP is for purely selfish reasons and despite their seeming ideological morality and I don’t say that in a derogatory way. Let me explain, in terms of the above first question, can anyone become an MP? Many would be candidates are chosen or enter the caldron of local politics based on some of the following:

  • Favourite son or daughter of the community
  • Party nomination
  • Business interests
  • Independent.

Whilst this is a commendable way to enter politics, it leaves some of those candidates woefully underprepared for the toing and froing of local and international political intrigue. In Rarotonga every person and their dog that think they will make it as a politician or are tapped on the shoulder will go out of their way to become the chosen candidate. Not that I am saying it is bribery, but the trimming of hedges, trees, giving of food, helping with finance, and all manner of community goings on, certainly point to a day of reckoning during the general elections. I have noted these goings on, and I must say that if a candidate or MP is engaged in such activities, it does appear that despite the MP’s community spirit, there must be some sort of payback, Dontcha think?

Usually there is a particular bias in a Party towards whom they will support to be the next candidate in a constituency. To this end we have seen where the chosen has become the unchosen due to bias and ructions within the Party selection panel as we saw in the general elections 2018.

To some extent there is a potential certainty about the way political candidates are chosen in Rarotonga. The most telling thing is the hypocrisy around Christianity, where so called candidates profess their belief in church and Christian values, and most of them are not, judging by criminal activities, philandering, and other unchristian-like activities hidden and open. The worst hypocrisy of it all is stating these facts on social media and bricks and mortar news media, do they not think that we know this?

In the Pa Enua it is generally not the Rarotonga way that is followed to become a candidate for political office. Here one is essentially in a gated community and these communities are mainly aligned with the two major parties, CIP (Cook Islands Party) and the Demo’s (Democratic Party) and no matter one’s credentials to become the chosen candidate for these two parties, there is an unwritten rule of who is eligible to represent those parties.

Your only way to affect the status quo is to set up as an Independent or another Party enters the political fray. In the Pa Enua, unless you will become a Cabinet minister, you are essentially treading water. You are being paid a large salary, waiting your turn to vote for your Party despite not having a clue about the issue you are voting on. Hence you are just filling a seat till the next elections, and it is someone else’s turn. Or you can persuade your party members to give you another go. Once you are a slave to this system, you are now bought and paid for as a lowly political hack, your vote is all that is important in the scheme of things.

In the Pa Enua, everyone knows everyone else, and the ridiculous thing is that the Island Governments in a post-election year do a swap when one Party is victorious at the general elections. Look, I can understand that the Pa Enua have a gated community mentality, I also understand that they are biased along Party lines (I have seen this personally in Atiu, Mitiaro and Aitutaki), but what I cannot understand is the sheer and at times nastiness of this, and I thought we were all one large anau, obviously I was wrong.

If one can walk and talk in all manner of settings, from boardroom to Cabinet to the ordinary person in the street then you will not be chosen as a candidate for any of the major parties here in the Cook Islands. You will be seen as a threat, undesirable, outspoken, opinionated and not a Party team player. You will be seen as not one to toe the Party line even if it compromises one’s principles and values and especially if it is immoral and unethical, you are not what they want in their Party.

There are many in the current major parties and Cabinet who have started out with high ideals and as time has gone on, they have sold their lives to the devil. They are muted and fearful of their positions, they do not have an opinion in Parliament if they have any sense (self-preservation is the word). They never write, comment, blog, provide any well thought out discourse on all manner of things that affect their communities. They are in effect mute and yet the voters want to have these people as their political leaders.

Well, wake up, get with the plan, we need innovators for the future of our country, we need initiative, we need inventers, we need strategist’s and most of all, we need MPs that can actually represent all our interests and not the interests of just a few.

- Te Tuhi Kelly is the founder and leader of the Progressive Party of the Cook Islands.