OPINION: Building upon the Henry Puna dynasty

Saturday 8 May 2021 | Written by Wilkie Rasmussen | Published in Opinion, Tropical Chronicles


OPINION: Building upon the Henry Puna dynasty
Former prime minister Henry Puna and wife Akaiti Puna, who was elected the new MP for Manihiki in a by election this week. 19111206

There are examples of countries that when their leaders retired, they handed over the top job to their wives. Are we seeing this in the Cook Islands now? By Wilkie Rasmussen

First of all, congratulations to Akaiti Puna for her victory in becoming the new Member of Parliament for the island of Manihiki, or Te Fuinga o Niva as it is known traditionally.

As easy as Henry Puna drives a golf ball down the No 1 fairway at the Rarotonga Golf Course, his wife Akaiti wins the seat vacated by her husband with a majority of 50 votes ahead on Wednesday.

That in Cook Islands terms, and in particular in Northern Group vote counts, is a huge margin. No surprise to Henry, Akaiti and their supporters, but a cause of grave concern for others.

How did this happen? I heard this question posed by several Manihikian people.

How could a non-Manihikian be voted in as our MP? Don’t we have anyone capable? Where’s the younger generation? Were they too scared to put their hands up? Where are the leaders of the island?

Well, one leader ran as a candidate and he only got five votes. His status did not matter at all. He was university educated, an economist, a successful businessman, a pearl farmer on Manihiki, a family man, a model father with two children who are university graduates (one a lawyer), a church going man, a regular commentator on radio, and a commonsense view man. All that did not appeal to voters.

Although downplayed at the risk that it might be a racist notion, there was a line of thinking that Akaiti was not from Manihiki and therefore should not stand.

Well, nothing in our laws prevents her from standing. If she qualifies, which she does by being anywhere in the Cook Islands before nomination, then she can contest the election. I suppose for Manihiki people, and that goes for all other Cook Islanders as well, who claim territorial definition for eligibility, that argument is chucked out the window.

So, what does this tell us? Is this a new dawn of politics in the Cook Islands? It might be if we start thinking that this could open the door for anyone who qualifies to vote in any constituency and therefore qualifies to be a candidate in any electorate.

Papa’a people contesting in our elections, well anyone really whether Indian, Fijian, German, who are permanent residents in our country. But let’s not forget though that there have been incidents of non-Cook Islanders by blood and ancestry attempting to get elected to Parliament or for local council. Roger Malcolm is an example in Atiu. He served as mayor for some years.

However, let’s not forget one major theme here. This is significant in so many ways. It is a demonstration of “mana” by former prime minister Henry Puna, now to begin work on probably the almost prestigious job in the South Pacific, as the Secretary General of the Pacific Islands Forum.

One would think that after all the public condemnation for his incessant travel and disregard of citizen group concerns over a number of matters that the moment he leaves Manihiki and the Cook Islands, that would be it. But no, he lingers on in Cook Islands politics in the form of his wife.

It’s a great number for Mr Puna. He’s top of the world. A former prime minister and now a regional giant and a statesman of Polynesia. His earning as prime minister was increased by 45 per cent. He had all the benefits, financial and otherwise, and perks of the position. What more could he ask for?

Well, a cynic could say this. Henry Puna was a man that became rich from politics. It is the reverse of the effect politics had on your average Cook Islands politician, so they claim.

You know, money for funerals, ceremonies, church, airfares etc. Now, Henry is getting even richer as the Secretary General and who knows what pension they have for retired S-G’s after he exits the Forum. The man is set for life.

And yet he wants his wife to hold the Manihiki seat instead of giving it back to Manihiki people. He might claim he did put it back to Manihiki people but no one wanted it and they asked for Akaiti to stand. Whatever, of course at the end of the day it’s more money for the former PM’s household.

There are examples of countries that when their autocratic leaders retired, they handed over the top job to their wives. Are we seeing this in the Cook Islands now?

  • Lawyer and former Democratic Party leader & Penrhyn MP Wilkie Rasmussen’s weekly column Tropical Chronicles will return from this coming Thursday.


Soa Tini on 09/05/2021

There are examples of countries that when their leaders retired, they handed over the top job to their wives. Are we seeing this in the Cook Islands now? By Wilkie Rasmussen This subheading is a misleading, insulting and offending information to the Manihiki people, for the record and factual. Manihiki people have the right to choose who they want to represent them in the Parliament seeing the fruit and seed Henry Puna plant in their lives to get what they need and nothing else to do with anybody thinks and dream in the sunshine. Stop the nonsense and get on with their lives. Manihiki speak out loud and clear in the majority. Tina admit it that they are wrong and Demo should not get in at all.