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Close call on Cook Islands general election, leaders upbeat about chances
8:21 pm GMT+12, 13/06/2018, Cook Islands

 The 2018 CINews election poll has placed the Democratic Party one seat ahead of the Cook Islands Party (CIP) heading in to tomorrow’s election.
According to the poll, neither party will hold a majority of 13 seats, which is required to govern alone.
Both of the major party’s leaders are expected to win their respective constituency vote. The CIP are expected to sweep all three seats in Aitutaki, though One Cook Islands (OCI) candidate Pumati Isaraela may have something to say about that.
In Atiu, Demo candidates Tania Akai and Te-Hani Brown are expected to cause an upset and steal their respective constituencies from the CIP.
Based on the respondent’s preferred parties, the Demos are poised to win 11 seats and the CIP 10, with the three constituencies of Matavera, Ruuau, and Penrhyn still yet to be decided.
Agriculture minister Kiriau Turepu is currently the member of parliament (MP) for Matavera, after beating Demo candidate Cassey Eggelton by just 18 votes at the last election. Turepu is once again expected to have a battle on his hands, with the Demos this time fielding local stalwart Vaitoti Tupa as their candidate.
Ruaau is currently represented by William “Smiley” Heather, who won a solid majority of 61.1 per cent of the vote at the last election. However, local businessman Arama Joseph Wichman has obviously made an impression on the electorate, with Ruaau now splitting their vote 50/50 between the two candidates.
One of the more interesting battles is for the seat of Penrhyn, currently held by the CIP’s Willie John. At the last election, John took the seat from then Demo Party leader Wilkie Rasmussen, who had held the seat since 2002. The duo will once again square off this election, in what could prove to be a critical seat.
The tightly-contested seat of Titikaveka, currently held by the Democratic Party’s Selina Napa, is expected to change hands to the CIP. However, poll results also show that the independent candidates may stand a chance, with 37.5 percent of respondents within the constituency choosing “other” as their preferred party.
According to the poll, OCI will fail to win a constituency. In the seat of Tupapa-Mararenga, usually considered an OCI stronghold, Demo candidate Lee Harmon is expected to beat George “Action Man” Maggie. Just over 33 percent of poll respondents from the area picked the Demos as their preferred party, whilst OCI managed only 8.3 per cent. At the last election, Maggie beat Harmon by 216 votes. However, the CIP is not contesting the constituency this time around and the extra 200 votes could play a major role in deciding its representative.
With the nation heading to the polls tomorrow, there is still no clear frontrunner. Perhaps most surprising is poll responses indicate that potential kingmakers OCI will not return to parliament. This could leave the door wide-open for a single independent to hold the balance of power come June 15. There could also be a hung parliament, which could result in a candidate crossing the floor to provide a majority, or alternatively a new election will be held.
Meanwhile, Prime minister Henry Puna is relying on the economic growth and stability that he says has been experienced under the CIP government to guide them through unscathed in the polls.
However, Tina Browne, the Democratic Party leader, remains upbeat about her party’s chances of changing the government.
In a national poll conducted by the CI News over the past week, CIP has a slight lead as the preferred party on 32 per cent, followed by the Democratic Party on 30.
However, Puna comes in third as preferred prime minister, with Browne first on 29 per cent. Twenty-eight per cent of poll respondents were “not sure” who they preferred to lead the country for the next four years.
Puna, who is seeking re-election in his Manihiki electorate, says he is confident in the work his government has done over the past eight years. He says it has brought growth and stability to the economy, and most importantly to the people of the Cook Islands. He believes the CIP will be allowed to govern for a third term because of this.
“Our people have more money in their pocket and the growth in tourism has been phenomenal over the past eight years. We have begun and worked on infrastructure projects so as we can sustain this growth without detrimental effects on our waste, roads, and our lagoons.” Puna says.
“The passing of Marae Moana was significant and there is so much more we plan to do, given the opportunity to govern again for the next four years. A strong economy has allowed not just tourism growth, but also growth in building and accommodations for our own people.
“We are now putting our faith in the people of the Cook Islands to put their faith and trust in us that we will continue to make it happen for them and continue to provide growth and stability to 2022.”
Browne says her party had a range of expectations when setting out on the ambitious venture of changing governments.
“For me, it was extra challenging because as leader, I have to both lead the party and be the best possible advocate for my constituents in Rakahanga, my electorate,” she says.
“I expected it to be exciting – which it is; I expected it to be an uplifting experience and it certainly is, but also one that is humbling when you realise the need our people have for change, and the faith that they place in you to make that happen.
“I expected it to be tough, which it is, especially as our main concern is to reduce the cost of living and to listen to the voices of our people.
“Hard decisions need to be made to deliver a robust economy while adhering to our strong values but the philosophy of our party is “Our People Our Priority”, which guides us in all our decision-making.”
Brown says her greatest expectation is that the Democratic Party will win the elections and the change she says the country needs “so badly”, will happen.
A total of 58 candidates is contesting the 24 seats available in parliament. The CIP and the Democratic Party are each contesting 23 constituencies.
The leaders of the Cook Islands Party (CIP) and Democratic Party are both optimistic of their chances heading into tomorrow’s general elections.


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