13 Dec 2004

Cooks to vote for new Prime Minster after election draw leads to by-election

8:18 am on 13 December 2004

The Cook Islands Head of state, Sir Frederick Goodwin, has dissolved the interim government after Prime Minister, Dr Robert Woonton, stepped down from his seat.

Sir Frederick has announced a by-election in the constituency of Manihiki

A recount in the High Court yesterday found that Manihiki was evenly split between Dr Woonton and his Cook Islands Party candidate, Henry Puna, with 134 votes each.

Both men had agreed not to appeal a High Court finding of a draw and for the question of who should be MP for Manihiki to go back to the voters.

In a television speech to the nation, the Queen's Representative said there was no constitutional crisis despite there being no Prime Minister.

Sir Frederick said it was business as usual for the administrative and judicial branches of government but called for a halt on all hiring, firing and overseas travel by public servants.

Parliament now has to meet before Tuesday, local time, to vote for a new prime minister.

Under the Cook Islands constitution, a seat becomes vacant when a by-election is called, which means Dr Woonton is no longer be a member of parliament and cannot be Prime Minister.

Sir Frederick said he could not appoint an interim prime minister because changing loyalties by some members of parliament stopped him from being able to decide who was likely to command a majority on Tuesday.

Yesterday's announcement is the latest blow to political stability in a country that has seen at least six different coalitions in the last five years.