Cook Islands Elections: Political Reform?

The Cook Islands National Parliament Election results are now official:

Democratic Party (Demos): 11 seats
Cook Islands Party (CIP): 10 seats
Independents: 2 seats
One Cook Islands (OCI): 1 seat

Henry Puna remains Prime Minister as CIP formed coalition with independent candidates and OCI.

There is an ongoing debate in the Cook Islands about the electorates and how they represent population size and regional interests. The Cook Islands are divided into 24 electorates:

  • Rarotonga: 10 electorates with an elector population of about 8,000
  • Southern Cooks: 10 electorates with an elector population of about 2,000
  • Northern Cooks: 4 electorates with an elector population of less than 500

With the current system, power is regionally distributed rather than relative to population size. Critiques from political activists and some politicians stress that MPs from outer islands wield too much power compared to the small populations they represent. The Prime Minister, for example, was elected with only 97 votes in a constituency (Manihiki) with a total elector population of 132. On the other hand, the current system more equally distributes power among the 15 Cook Islands and allows for outer island interests to be adequately represented at national level.

A possible reform bridging both arguments would be to introduce a bicameral system. However, the question is whether such a system, common to larger democratic states such as Switzerland, suits the Cook Islands as a comparatively small island state.

The call for such political reform in the Cook Islands is not new. It seems rather unlikely that change is introduced, since a change in electorates is likely to reduce power of the majority of MPs currently in office.


Research Project: Natural Hazards, Disaster Risks and Coping in the Pacific Islands

Approach: A Case Study of Post-Disaster Management after Cyclone Pam (March 2015) is conducted in Vanuatu.

Goal: This research project looks into natural hazards in the Pacific Island region, concentrating on Cyclone Pam in Vanuatu. Cyclone Pam has been one of the worst natural hazards that ever hit the Pacific Island region. More than a quarter of the country’s population had to seek protection in emergency shelters and standing crops in the fields were destroyed to more than 95 percent. More than 166,000 people – which is more than 60 percent of the country’s population – were in need of food distribution.

Fieldwork: This is a collaborative research project by the University of the South Pacific. In June 2018, I  conducted research in several villages on Tanna Island. My part of the research focusses on two main researach questions:

1) What are Tannese peoples’ most urgent needs three years after cyclone Pam?

2) What role does traditional housing play in disaster risk reduction?

Tanna Island (Vanuatu), June 2018 (photo taken by Kim Andreas Kessler)

In January 2018, Dr Frank Thomas and Dr Manoranjan Mohanty went for research to Vanuatu to investigate generally into knowledge and practice regarding to disaster risk reduction (Dr Thomas) and the policy environment (Dr Mohanty). In 2017, Dr Eberhard Weber conducted fieldwork on traditional cyclone shelters.

Cook Islands Elections

On 14 June 2018, general elections were held in the Cook Islands. These are the results after preliminary counting:

Democratic Party (Demos): 11 seats
Cook Islands Party (CIP): 10 seats
Independents: 2 seats
One Cook Islands (OCI): 1 seat

It is expected that the Electoral Office releases the final result on 28 June 2018.

If results are confirmed and the Demos, OCI and independent candidates form a coalition, the Democratic Party will lead the Cook Islands Government for the first time since 2010.