12 Nov 2002

Protest rally held outside Cook Islands parliament over new coalition

6:32 pm on 12 November 2002

A protest has been held outside the Cook Islands parliament, calling on the prime minister, Dr Robert Woonton, to make a public commitment to early elections.

This follows the forming of a new coalition at the end of last week in which 24 out of the 25 MPs are part of the government, leaving one MP, Norman George, as the opposition.

Elizabeth Ponga of the Group for Political Change says Dr Woonton is yet to make an announcement publicly to the country about when elections will be called despite informing overseas media that they would be held early in the new year.

Ms Ponga says many people are opposed to the changes which they haven't voted for.

"The fundamental democratic principles are being eroded by the calling of another coalition government. A proposed coalition of 24 members of parliament lacks accountability since all MPs would be involved in government, in some sense, and there is only one member specifically charged with the task of being the opposition which means the checks and balances on policy, expenditure, legislature and constitutional change are non-existent."

About 100 people turned up for the rally.

Protestors were to present a letter to the prime minister, outlining their concerns and asking him to set a date for elections.

The president of the Cook Islands Law Society says it's likely that there will be more changes to come to the make-up of the government.

Brett Gibson says there are rumblings that some government MPs will join lone opposition MP, Norman George.

Mr Gibson says with five coalitions in less than four years, the situation remains in flux.

To be perfectly honest, there is still a bit more shuffling. I don't think that one person who is in the opposition, Norman George, will be by himself for too long. There is still a fair bit of shuffling to be done among the politicians yet. So all those who are in the coalition now may not be in the coaltion next week.

Mr Gibson says the government, in its present state, will find it difficult to go to elections because people wouldn't have separate parties to vote for.

Cook Islanders have traditionally voted for the Cook Islands Party or the Democrats but they're now in coalition.