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Island elections delay leaves councils in limbo

Friday 12 June 2020 | Written by Melina Etches | Published in Politics


Island elections delay leaves councils in limbo
Island Governance director Mia Teaurima. 20061021.

Pa Enua residents are hoping for a new election date to be set, after their island council elections were delayed by Covid-19 and legal challenges.

They had been scheduled for April 9, and leaders say they are stuck in limbo until they go ahead.

Aitutaki mayor Tekura Bishop is looking forward to the announcement of the election date, “and with the current situation the country is in, the sooner the better.

“At the moment we are in a caretaker’s position, I have plans ready to be actioned, but until the elections are held, we have to keep these plans on hold.”

Island Governance director Mia Teaurima said they hoped to hold the elections next month. There were also legal challenges that Crown Law are working on, he said.

Travelling restrictions affected the eligibility of voters, who must be residents on the outer islands. Some were caught up in quarantine overseas; some people were on medical referrals in New Zealand.

Delays to their return invalidated their eligibility to vote, as voters are generally required to have lived in their constituency for the past three months.

Teaurima said the current legislation did not provide for such exceptional situations as Covid-19.

The Island Government Electoral Regulation 2014 and the Electoral Act would need to be amended, he said, “to ensure that we do not have some issues after the elections”.

These temporary amendments would need cabinet approval. “We want to run the election as soon as it is practical,” Teaurima added.

Usually the electoral office would travel to the Pa Enua to conduct briefings and transfer documentation such as ballot boxes. But now they more often video-conference, saving on travel.

The Island government consists of a Mayor and island council members. One mayor per island is elected, with the exception of Nassau, which is administered by the Pukapuka island government.

Ballot boxes have been sent to some of the islands, though this is not indicative of an election date but rather to allow for the uncertainties of flight or shipping schedules.

The Island Government Act 2012-2013 is to “encourage Island Governments and the island community to progressively assume responsibilities as and when they are able to do so: to enable Island Governments and their island communities to decide on how best to promote the social, economic, cultural and environmental well-being of the respective islands.”