8 Dec 2004

Cook Islands lawyer says country could face further uncertainty over election petitions

3:43 pm on 8 December 2004

A Cook Islands lawyer, and former solicitor-general, is warning that the country could be in for further uncertainty if the prime minister, Dr Robert Woonton, loses an electoral petition.

The High court is resuming its hearing into two final electoral cases, including Dr Woonton's electorate, Manihiki, which he won by just four votes from the president of the Cook Islands party, Henry Puna.

Mr Puna is challenging the result but says the coalition deal between his party and Dr Woonton's remains strong.

The coalition is currently the caretaker administration until the electoral challenges are resolved and parliament is convened.

Lawyer John McFadzien says if the prime minister loses the petition and there's a recount which subsequently results in him losing his seat, there are consequences for others.

"That certainly throws the cat among the pigeons and is another reason why people would like a decision before xmas. The constitution provides that if the prime minister loses his seat, then at the time he ceases to become a member of parliament, so too do all his cabinet ministers cease to be cabinet ministers. So, we have a vacancy in the executive."

John McFadzien.

Mr Puna says that doesn't mean there will be a crisis because parliament could simply be convened and a new prime minister elected.