Queues may have formed outside some polling places yesterday, but voter turnout across the entire Cook Islands was the lowest-ever for a general election.
The 2018 General Election is not over yet, with negotiations between independents and both major parties beginning yesterday.
Preliminary results have indicated the Democratic Party (Demos) will have 11 seats in parliament and the Cook Islands Party (CIP) 10 seats. Independents hold two and One Cook Islands (OCI) has one.
With neither party holding the 13 seat majority needed to form a government, the responsibility of choosing who will lead the country now lies with the independent MPs. They include OCI’s solitary MP George Maggie, who retained his seat of Tupapa-Maraerenga at the election.
There are many possibilities of who could become the next prime minister, so who are the independents and what are they likely to choose?
The first independent to have their name called last night was Rose Brown, who won the seat of Teenui-Mapumai, in Atiu. Before the election, Brown claimed she had been “forced out” of the CIP after it was revealed her daughter Te-Hani would be standing for the Demos in the other Atiu constituency of Tengatangi-Areora-Ngatiarua.
The CIP’s move seems to have backfired, with both Rose and Te-Hani Brown winning their respective constituencies and claiming a clean-sweep of Atiu. Although one might assume Rose will support her daughter’s Democratic Party, there have been rumours that the duo could change sides and support the CIP. Both were unavailable for comment yesterday.
If the mother-daughter duo throws its support behind the CIP, the party would only require one more seat to form a majority government.
That support would need to come from either OCI’s George Maggie, or independent Robert Tapaitau, who won the seat of Penrhyn. Maggie is a former member of the CIP and could once again give his support to the party. Maggie has promised to take the decision back to his constituents.
On the other hand, Tapaitau’s late father Tepure Tapaitau QSM was once deputy leader of the Demos and the first-ever Cook Islander to become Police Commissioner. This could indicate where Tapaitau may lend his support.
The CIP needs at least three more seats to be able to form a government. The Demos require two.
The Demos are expected to meet next Tuesday to begin discussions on the party’s leadership. Frontrunners for the position include William “Smiley” Heather, Tamaiva Tuavera, and Selina Napa. Terepai Maoate should also not be discounted.
If the CIP are successful in gaining a majority of the seats in parliament, Henry Puna is likely to return to power for a third term. Mark Brown will likely take over the deputy position from Teariki Heather, who lost in Akaoa.
OCI leader Teina Bishop has not ruled out the possibility of George Maggie seeking a ministerial portfolio as a part of a coalition agreement. He says he is confident the party will pick-up “one, maybe two more seats,” once the final results have been released.
There is a strong possibility several seats will change hands once postal and special votes have been counted.
Arutanga-Reureu-Nikaupara was won by the CIP’s Tereapii Maki-Kavana by only eight votes. Mauke hangs in the balance, with CIP candidate Tai Tura holding a one seat majority over OCI’s Tungane Williams. Demo candidate Junior Willie Katoa could also gain the seat of Pukapuka-Nassau, after going down to the CIP’s Tingika Elikana by only five votes.
If the seats do change hands, the Demos will gain one seat, giving them a total of 50 per cent of the seats in parliament. The CIP will lose three, bringing their total to only seven seats. OCI stands to gain two, making a total of three.
This would mean the Demos require only one more seat to be able to form a majority government.
However, the ultimate decision lies with the independents. It is possible they will seek ministerial positions, with some speculating Rose Brown may even seek the top job. The independents will be testing the waters in terms of policy concessions from both parties.
They may also decide to split their support, which could result in a hung parliament. Most parties are waiting for the final results to be delivered before they decide on the next steps.