Electoral reform needed in Cook Islands - Chief Justice | Pacific Beat

Electoral reform needed in Cook Islands - Chief Justice

Electoral reform needed in Cook Islands - Chief Justice

Updated 4 August 2014, 11:34 AEST

The Cook Islands elections saga continues as the High Court gears up to hear a number of electoral petitions.

Chief justice Tom Weston has touched down in Rarotonga for the hearings.

Journalist Helen Greig says he believes some of the petitions seem unfounded and expose the need for electoral reform in Cook Islands.

Presenter: Richard

Speaker: Helen Greig, journalist, Cook Islands

GREIG: The Chief Justice, Tom Weston, was here this week to schedule the hearing. Now they are going to begin next month, early next month, and it looks like there are still some logistics to work out, but he has appointed one judge to begin hearing those petitions. He's also going to hear some petitions himself. But the Chief Justice has warned Counsel for the two political parties here that they better have some strong grounds for the allegations contained in these petitions. Some of them he's saying have very little substance, so he wants them to really focus on the important issues. And so over the next two weeks, we'll see some of those petitions amended and we're also going to see some counter-claims filed.
EWART: It's interesting that at this early stage, that the Chief Justice should talk about some of petitions having little substance. I mean that sounds like warning shot across the bows that maybe those petitions are destined to fail?
GREIG: Well, that's right. They don't really want this to happen. There's 9 petitions at the moment, 8 of those are from the Democratic Party, so they're looking at how they can really schedule this before we have a sitting of parliament as well. Parliament will be forced to sit in October, so they want to get this out of the way. So we could see some withdraws of petitions, it really we don't yet know what the parties are planning, but they have so far, said that they're going ahead with this. I mean the Democratic Party wants to overturn this election result.
EWART: If at the end of this process, if some of those petitions turn out to be of little substance in the way that the Chief Justice has suggested. I mean can he sanction the parties in anyway, can he react accordingly?
GREIG: Well, yes he has made some strong comments this week and he has said that a lot of these petitions are not, they don't have a lot of substance here. So he's saying look, it really highlights the need for political reform once again and this might be something that is a real focus going forward is how do we get to a better political system where we don't have 9 petitions filed after an election. So there's some real issues to iron out and they want to get those petitions over and done with next month.
EWART: Would it be possible for him if he deemed any of the petitions to be just ridiculously frivolous, to punish the parties in anyway, or is that outside his remit ?? Does he simply have to understand whether there's substance or not?
GREIG: Well, yes I don't know about the punishment, but there's definitely a lot, a high cost involved in this, not only the lawyers, but they do have to pay a fee every time they file a petition like this, and that goes from anything from 6 to 9-thousand dollars. So there's a high cost involved in this.
EWART: And, against this background, of this political confusion and stalemate I suppose you could call it. Prime Minister remains Henry Puna for now at least and he has his Constitution Day Address to deliver tomorrow. It's going to be interesting to hear what he has to say against this current background?
GREIG: That's right, because his party has for all intensive purposes won the last month's election and so really they want the mandate now to go forward and that's going to depend a lot on these petitions.
EWART: Do we have any clues at this stage as to what he maybe putting into his Constitution Day address. I mean do you think it could be effected by what's going on behind the scenes?
GREIG: He could well make some references to this election. I mean this is a celebration of self-governance and it's a big issue for us, so we could expect some reference to the election and to the outcome.
EWART: And, just one other thing to mention, as the celebrations marking self-governance continue, I gather it's got a little chilly in Cook Islands?
GREIG: That's right. This week marks the lowest temperatures on record for 40 years, so we've dipped below 14 degrees Celsius and that's thanks to some chilly southeast winds coming up from Antarctic. So in 40 years, we haven't seen a low like this and here we are in tropical paradise, so yeah, it was a little bit chilly this week.
EWART: So, dare I mention it, climate change?
GREIG: Yeah, I mean, it really could be a sign of the times, yeah.

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