The Cook Islands Solicitor-General, David James, has praised the recent conference on Legal and Regulatory Frameworks for Political Parties in Vanuatu as a “particularly stimulating and productive conference”.
James said its objective was to inform Vanuatu, and other regional participants about legal developments and insights into the value of and experiences with, regulating political parties.
Cook Islands has its own constitutional regulation of political parties by way of Part 9A, "Party Integrity" in the Electoral Act 2004 (as amended in 2007 as an Art 41 Constitution enactment). The CK High Court has two important judgments concerning party integrity law: George vA-G 2013; Kareora vA-G 2017.
Three aspects of possible progress in political party regulation may be usefully discussed in the Cook Islands:
Firstly, a registry of political parties could be established connected perhaps with the Chief Electoral Officer's administration office. This could establish a place where Party Constitution and procedures can be lodged and up-dated routinely. It could identify the executive or board members of the political party; provide an annual report of the value and use of its money resources; show the rules for qualifying and disqualifying embers; and the process for selecting persons to be nominated in a constituency ahead of the general elections.
Secondly, a party registry system that may include some of the above elements would require public funding which could justify the need for a full-time Election Commissioner or at least additional human resources in that office.
Thirdly, it is recently shown in this country that independents or a party with one to three Members of Parliament are in a position to choose to support a party which has less than one half the elected Members of Parliament, with the effect of producing a majority group of members.
These one to three members would presently be free anytime to abandon the party in power without risk of being disqualified from their seat.
These few members may have been rewarded in some way for their support, like being appointed to ministerial office.
It may then be useful to consider that such member or members who join the political party that gains power, should have some level of party integrity duty to the party they have supported.
This duty could be encouraged by requiring some legal restrictions, for a period of time, before this member or few members could vote against the government party when it relates either to all resolutions or perhaps only to those that are votes of confidence.
If that independent person voted against the government there might be consequences like disqualifying the member, who could run again for election in any consequential by-election.
This option of seeking disqualification, is presently only provided for Members of the Party which has been put into government.
If the objective is stability of government between election periods, the incentive towards “integrity” when a majority by coalition has been established, may promote that goal.